SINCE the beginning of the pandemic, Australia and New Zealand have been hailed among the few countries to have kept Covid out and life largely normal.

Strict border controls, 14-day quarantine for all arrivals, and snap local lockdowns as soon as a single case is detected have limited virus deaths to just 910 in Australia, and 26 in New Zealand, against 128,000 to date in the UK.

They have all but eliminated Covid within their communities and the few infections which do slip through tend to be detected among cleaners or security guards working at their quarantine hotels.

HeraldScotland: New Zealand has recorded five Covid deaths per million people, and Australia 36 per million, compared to 1884 per million in the UKNew Zealand has recorded five Covid deaths per million people, and Australia 36 per million, compared to 1884 per million in the UK

This success means that, from tomorrow, Australia and New Zealand will be among the UK's 12 'green list' countries where Scots could holiday without having to quarantine on return.

Except that neither country is actually open to visitors anyway.

In fact, Australia's government indicated in a budget statement on Tuesday that it expects to remain closed until mid-2022.

READ MORE: Glasgow's Indian variant outbreak is the price we pay UK's 'leaky' travel quarantine

While many are glad to be insulated from the pandemic, for ex-pats cut off from their families overseas or the thousands of Australians stranded abroad who are desperate to get home there is growing anxiety.

“A lot of my friends are wondering if they have to move home and abandon Australia if they ever want to see their families again," says Sarah Swain, 40, a journalist in Sydney who previously worked at Glasgow's Evening Times newspaper.

“People in Australia are definitely very proud of the country’s response, certainly up until now.

"We closed the borders very early – only Australians and permanent residents were allowed in and they go straight into hotel quarantine which you have to pay AU$3000 [£1650] for.

"But the problem with that is they’ve limited the seats on flights coming in from almost the start, which means people are still trapped abroad.

"There’s still 34,000 Aussies who’ve registered with the government saying they want to come back.

"The government has been heavily criticised for not getting these people back because of limits on hotel quarantine.

"We're not allowed to leave either. Sometimes you can get permission for compassionate reasons but then getting back in very hard.

"It's just a total nightmare."

HeraldScotland: Sarah Swain lives in Sydney with her American boyfriend, JoshSarah Swain lives in Sydney with her American boyfriend, Josh

Both Swain, who is originally from Lincolnshire, and her American partner Josh, fear they could be waiting years to see loved ones again.

"The mood is definitely split," she says. "I think a lot of Aussies don’t have sympathy for ex-pats.

"We’re obviously happy that we haven’t had all the lockdowns that other countries have had - life is pretty much normal here.

"But it’s just upsetting not to know when we’re going to see our families again."

The Australian government is under pressure from opponents to expand quarantine capacity (no more than 3,122 people maximum can enter Australia per week; for comparison, 900 people a day were arriving in the UK from India alone between April 2 and April 23, when the country was added to the UK 'red list'), with New South Wales Treasurer Dominic Perrottet last week calling for "a roadmap to open Australia back up to the world" - including allowing home quarantine.

Infectious disease professors including Sydney-based Greg Dore and Canberra-based Peter Collignon said it was "not feasible for Australia to remain in an elimination bunker" and urged "a different attitude to risk".

It comes weeks after the Australian government faced a backlash from human rights campaigners after banning flights from India amid fears over the B1.617 strain, and threatening five-year prison sentences or AU$60,000 (£30,000) fines for anyone found to have returned from the country via other routes.

READ MORE: Glasgow spike in infections linked to new variants and household transmission

The hardline policy is mirrored by strict rules on who can even leave Australia in the first place.

Niamh Boyce, 27 and originally from Clydebank, works for the Australian government in Sydney where part of her job includes dealing with international travel requests from citizens and permanent residents.

She said: "You actually need to have a lot of evidence. For example, if you have a parent who’s dying you need to have the doctor’s notes, but you also need to have you birth certificate to show that it’s your parent, and even at that they’re only really letting one person go.

"So if you were here with your partner, they wouldn’t necessarily be allowed to go with you.

"It is very difficult, and a lot of travel exemptions are being rejected when they are compelling cases."

HeraldScotland: Niamh Boyce, from Clydebank, had been living in Sydney for five years but does not know when she will be able to see her family in Scotland againNiamh Boyce, from Clydebank, had been living in Sydney for five years but does not know when she will be able to see her family in Scotland again

Like other ex-pats, Boyce appreciates the protection border controls have bought, but worries about the future.

“Over the past year I’ve probably never felt luckier to be in Australia," she says. "Seeing my friends in Scotland being so happy last week just to go to the pub - you take these things for granted a bit.

"It’s more in two to three years' time - what is the border situation going to be?

"You’re just hoping that nothing bad happens at home, because getting home and getting back to Australia would be virtually impossible.”

HeraldScotland: New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's government has secured enough AstraZeneca and Novavax doses for all New Zealanders, but the rollout has been slowNew Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's government has secured enough AstraZeneca and Novavax doses for all New Zealanders, but the rollout has been slow

One major frustration is the pace of vaccinations.

New Zealand, which is also closed to anyone except citizens, permanent residents and essential workers, has fully vaccinated just 2.4 per cent of its population and there is still no clarity on how or when it plans to open up.

Emma Ritch, a 44-year-old New Zealander living in Glasgow, said: “I think the eyes in New Zealand are starting to turn to the rest of the world in terms of the vaccine rollout - there is some frustration.

"When I talk to family members, maybe less, but certainly in the media I read from New Zealand there is a critique of the government in terms of the pace of rolling out the vaccines. My mum has been vaccinated but not yet my brother or sister."

READ MORE: Why UK scientists are growing worried about the rapid rise of the Indian variant

Ritch, who is director of advocacy group Engender, moved to the UK with her family when she was 12 but her mother and sister later returned to live in the city of Nelson on New Zealand's South Island and her brother jetted back to Auckland from London last year as the pandemic began.

“I love living in Scotland and I obviously have a life here now, but it feels much further away during Covid," she says.

“But I have felt incredibly relieved over the last year that they have been safe and well and living their lives, and they haven’t been constrained in the way we have in the UK."

Like Australia, entry into New Zealand is mainly restricted to citizens and permanent residents who have to pay NZ$3,100 (£1600) for 14-day hotel quarantine, although this is taxpayer-funded if they left New Zealand before August 11 2020 or are returning for more than 90 days.

HeraldScotland: The UK is adopting a traffic light approach to international travel from tomorrow which will limit hotel quarantine to 'red list' countries. Many 'green list' countries, including Singapore, Australia, New Zealand and Israel are closed to tourismThe UK is adopting a traffic light approach to international travel from tomorrow which will limit hotel quarantine to 'red list' countries. Many 'green list' countries, including Singapore, Australia, New Zealand and Israel are closed to tourism

Again though, a cap on the number of arrivals - 350 per day to prevent quarantine facilities being overwhelmed - means many Kiwis would struggle to get back if they left.

For Ritch though, as a New Zealander in the UK during the pandemic, the trade-off seems worth it.

She said: “As an ordinary person looking on I’m quite incredulous at the laidback approach that the UK has taken to its borders.

"It’s very difficult to compare countries, but to just reflect on the way that my family has been able to live their lives - my nephew has been able to go to nursery; my sister changed jobs and she's in an office with all her new workmates; my Mum, who’s had some health issues, those haven’t really worsened during lockdown because she’s been able to go out and exercise and meet friends because their lockdown was so short.

"In the UK, it just seems like we’ve had to give up so much more because the borders have been kept open.”

Meanwhile, Australia has set a target to vaccinate its 25 million population by the end of the year - but the rollout has been slower than planned with only three million doses administered to date against an original timescale of four million by March.

HeraldScotland: Professor Nancy Baxter said the UK was 'premature' is opening its borders for 'traffic light' based travel from tomorrow Professor Nancy Baxter said the UK was 'premature' is opening its borders for 'traffic light' based travel from tomorrow

Australia's government gambled on a homegrown vaccine being developed at the University of Queensland which failed, and was late in placing orders for Pfizer and Moderna.

Another - Novavax - is not yet approved, leaving Australia's immunisation programme reliant on AstraZeneca supplies which are now complicated by blood clot risks.

Even among the over-50s who are being prioritised for the jags, the chance of being exposed to coronavirus is so tiny that the statistical probability of developing a clot is actually higher.

"It's a hard sell in Australia," says Professor Nancy Baxter, head of the school of population and global health at the University of Melbourne, of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

"I have a friend who is involved in one of the mass vax centres and she says her problem isn’t vaccine supply right now, it’s finding people willing to get vaccinated.”

Of course, if Australia and New Zealand ever want to reopen at all they are reliant on high vaccine coverage in populations which will have almost no natural immunity to the virus.

“There are people anxious to open up but quite frankly, I don’t think people understand what opening up means.

"Even if we’re fully vaccinated, when we open up we will have Covid because not everyone will be vaccinated and the vaccine won't work in everyone."

HeraldScotland: In Bolton, England, more than half of cases analysed by genomic sequencing are testing positive for the Indian variant B1.617.2, which was first detected in samples in the UK in FebruaryIn Bolton, England, more than half of cases analysed by genomic sequencing are testing positive for the Indian variant B1.617.2, which was first detected in samples in the UK in February

Prof Baxter expects that some form of quarantine will also have to continue indefinitely.

"If we allow people in without quarantine from countries where the virus is out of control, then you’re going to end up with a lot of Covid in the community.

"That’s not something we want and it’s not something that I think the Australians will be willing to consider.

"So I think there will be quarantine - I don’t know if it will be hotel quarantine - but there will be quarantine from countries where there’s a significant amount of virus in circulation.

"What will we do with countries like Israel where the virus is under control and people are vaccinated? I think that’s an open question. Do we have shorter quarantine? Do we allow them to quarantine at home?"

In Scotland, only 35% of the population is fully vaccinated and 65% of adults under-50 have yet to get even a first dose.

As for the UK's decision to adopt a traffic light system for travel and allow increased socialising at a time when cases of the Indian variant are doubling, Prof Baxter predicts disaster.

"The horse is out of the barn in the UK," she says.

"I don’t know if you can control it at this point.

“With the Indian variant circulating and that many people not vaccinated, you’ve got a third wave on your hands.

"Israel is only just opening up to international travel on May 23 - they’ve waited a long time.

“Hard as it is for people to hear, this Indian variant is considerably more infectious than the Kent variant and you saw what happened when the Kent variant took over.

"If you have that many under-50s not vaccinated it will kill a lot of them.

"Not as many as it would kill the elderly, but it will kill a lot of them."