Hotel quarantine and COVID-19 from the outside

Hotel quarantine - image Tim O'Callaghan

Hotel quarantine for all travellers from overseas as they enter Australia is mandated by the Commonwealth Government. Each state and territory enforces strict conditions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 from outside Australia. Some states use the term ‘medi hotel’ instead of quarantine hotel.

We owe a great debt of gratitude to Australians returning from other parts of the world. Most endure considerable deprivation and hardship through quarantine in order to keep the rest of us safe.

Police, armed forces personnel and guards in personal protective equipment (PPE) escort travellers from their planes to buses. From there they transport them to designated hotels in the major cities. At first, the government paid hotel expenses, but now travellers must pay their own $3000 per person, or $5000 per family, for the privilege of two-week’s incarceration.

The government-chosen hotels in Perth rate 5 or 4.5 stars. But tourists and seekers of luxurious getaways no longer use these places.

People must stay in their allotted rooms for the full 14 days of quarantine. Once a day, health officers and guards check that everyone remains well. Guards and police patrol the floors day and night.

Hotel staff deliver simple meals in paper bags or cardboard boxes to each door three times a day. They knock, stand back and wait until the occupant retrieves the food and closes the door. They deliver a bag of fresh sheets and towels once a week. Staff in PPE collect rubbish from outside each door at a designated time each day..

COVID-19 testing

Health Department staff perform COVID-19 tests on day two and day 11. On day 14, the authorities free those with negative test results. Those who test positive to the disease remain in quarantine until cleared. The time of discharge corresponds precisely with the time of arrival fourteen days before.

Those of us who have not experienced it can only imagine how hard it must be to be locked away. Close to home for many, but Oh! so far away. Home isolation would be a breeze compared to this.

Hotel quarantine (1)

Two months ago, my granddaughter, Claire-Helen, her husband, Bhen, and their three children returned from Texas. The children are 9, 5 and 4. They’d relocated for Bhen’s work with an oil company the year before, and couldn’t come home sooner.

Of course we were overjoyed they were in Perth and safe. But the fortnight before we could actually see them dragged. We counted the days.

Phone calls became immediate. No more working out how Perth time and Texas time correlated. This doting great-grandmother enjoyed Messenger chats with the children. Best of all, I loved the virtual tours afforded by my nine-year-old great-granddaughter.

She showed me the two rooms in which these five people lived on top of each other. Games and projects sat on tables with books, puzzles and craft material. Gifts of food from all the grandparents the generation below me, as well as from aunts and uncles, friends and well-wishers, Bhen’s employers.

They looked and sounded happy. Well-done, Claire-Helen and Bhen.

Hotel quarantine (2)

My son, Tim, returned from a stint on a rig that sailed from Karratha to Malaysia. Unable to dock, they’d been at sea for seven weeks unable to return earlier. They went into hotel quarantine in Perth. He’ll be out on tomorrow, depending on the result of his second COVID-19 test.

His hotel in the heart of the Perth CBD overlooks a street lined with exotic boutiques, fine dining venues and quirky laneways. Here’s a view from his window:

Tim's view, hotel quarantine

A sentence from the hotel website reads:

Step inside [this hotel] where luxury is defined at every touchpoint from personalised service, unique dining experiences and elegant surrounds.

I’m told the room boasts many comforts. But no freedom, nowhere to exercise and no fresh air.

Food

These sample meals replace the advertised fine dining.

quarantine breakfast
lunch

Tim’s a big man. I worried he might be hungry.

Delivering gifts – the routine

The authorities permit friends and relatives to provide gifts. These can include anything except alcohol or tobacco products, illicit drugs and dangerous objects. Delivering gifts makes those of us on the outside feel much less helpless and those inside hopefully feel some comfort from parcels. Home cooked meals, fruit, chocolate …

Five minute parking bays on the street outside get good use. Cars, vans and taxis, to say nothing of Uber drivers, pull up all the time. The welcoming doors of the hotel, usually wide open, now locked from the inside, look forbidding. Controlled access through one small opening intimidates.

One person at a time can enter, when the guard opens the door. A roped off table sits two metres from the opening. The guard invites the visitor to place bagged goodies on the table and begins an interrogation.

  • Room number? They check a list and then ask,
  • Name of the person?
  • What’s in the bag? Alcohol? Tobacco? Drugs?
  • May I enquire your relationship to the person?

‘We’ll check the bags before taking them up,’ they say.

My hotel quarantine adventures

I go to the hotel in Hay Street with a bag of goodies from the local supermarket. Bollards, witches hats and forensic tape block the five-minute parking spots. I glimpse people in full PPE on the footpath and road. A police vehicle is parked opposite. Round the block and I park in King Street, as close as I can get to my destination.

As I get out of the car and open the door to the back seat where my loot is stacked, the heavens open. This is November in Perth. A dry month. The temperature is 26 degrees C, and I’m wearing jeans, a tee-shirt and runners. The rain buckets down for fifteen minutes while I shelter under the eaves of a row of shops on the opposite side of the road from where I really want to be.

At the hotel, I’m told to stand on the other side of barricades. My clothes make puddles the footpath and my hair drips onto my face for a further five minutes. With a couple of others, I watch figures in PPE emerge through the small door onto the footpath. They escort someone to a waiting, unmarked vehicle, which takes off, followed by the police.

People in protective equipment take down the barricades, tidy away the bollards and witches hats. Others clean the doors, windows, bars, locks with sprays and cloths.

Eventually, order restored, I’m admitted to leave my shopping. Tim’s asked for some disposable razors because he ran out in Malaysia. The guard tells me that he’ll have to check with a superior if razors are allowed. He writes Tim’s room number on the packet, and puts it aside. Then he checks the bag to make sure there’s no other contraband.

There’s no explanation for the removal of the person. No new cases are reported the next day, so who knows where they took the person or why.

Strangers in quarantine

Claire-Helen, Bhen and their children, as well as Tim, are among the lucky ones. If anyone who goes into such rigorous isolation can be called ‘lucky’. But they have family and friends who call often and deliver gifts of home-cooked food, crisp salads, treats, crunchy vegetables, fresh bread.

I wonder what happens to those on their way to other states, in transit through Perth hotels. If they can afford it, maybe they do online shopping. I guess many returning travellers are strapped for money. Perhaps it might be possible to organise gifts for those incarcerated for two weeks to keep us safe. Time for some thinking and action?

Stop press!

Before I posted this article, Western Australia opened its borders to most other states (14 November, 2020). Within 36 hours, an outbreak of COVID-19 had begun in South Australia.

As I write, 17 cases of community acquired virus have been reported. South Australian visitors and returning travellers had entered WA.

The Premier announced new regulations for people from SA who enter Western Australia. I hope the borders close again soon. But others will think differently.

Join the Conversation

4 Comments

  1. So happy for you family that all is well. Your comment re visitors not having family to help with fresh food gifts is certainly harder for them. However trying to take food gifts would be a logistical problem for the authorities unfortunately.A great thing to do if it could be managed

    1. Thank you, Maureen. It is so good to have all my overseas travellers home and safe, even if the process was a bit wearing. I’ll keep trying to work out how lonely returning travellers might be able to receive even small gifts so they know they are not abandoned while in such strict isolation. It must be really terrible for them. Hope you are well and enjoying the cool weather.

  2. Thanks Maureen. I think it could be terribly lonely to be in quarantine as a solo traveller. It sounds like your family prepared themselves well with games etc.

    1. Hi Valerie. Thanks for your comment. I think being in quarantine would be the most horrible way to spend a fortnight of anyone’s life, and especially as a solo traveller in a place where you didn’t live! And with three small children, it would be difficult however you prepared. We should be grateful to the people who undergo this.

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