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A Canberra Girl’s Guide to Hotel Quarantine

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When I first heard about the mandatory hotel quarantine in Australia, I thought “there’s no way that I could survive that.”

A few months later, and I’m currently writing this from Hotel Amora Jamison Sydney, on day 11 of Hotel Quarantine.

Like many Australians living overseas, my husband and I hadn’t planned to make the move home quite so soon. But as it became apparent that we wouldn’t be able to buy travel insurance for the remainder of the year—and facing the possibility of having to pay for quarantine—we decided the time was right for us.

I’ve flown into Sydney Airport quite a few times in my life, and been brought to tears by the beautiful artwork, familiar accents and “welcome home” messages.

The Sydney Airport that we flew into was more like entering Area 51 than coming home — eerily quiet, managed by military members in uniform, and mildly terrifying.

We were separated into families and single travellers or couples, loaded into buses by army officers and set off to undisclosed locations. When we arrived at our hotel, passengers were unloaded one by one—a process that took two hours (I know exactly how long, because we were the last people off the last bus). We were “checked in” by Australian Border Force officers, and led up to our room.

I know what you’re thinking: “stop your whingeing, it’s a five-star hotel!”—but what you need to understand is that staying in a room for 14 days under quarantine conditions is starkly different from a lush weekend away.

Having joined the “COVID-19 Compulsory Quarantine — Sydney” Facebook group (and extensively stalked quarantiners on Instagram) what I do know is that the conditions vary greatly between hotels. For example, some hotels offer a room service menu, with a daily allowance per person (and even an alcohol allowance in some cases). Others are serviced apartments with kitchens and balconies. It’s clear that families are given extra consideration (for obvious reasons), but otherwise, it really does come down to luck of the draw.

Maybe I’m being self-indulgent, but I can’t help but feel that we got the short end of the stick. Our room, though lovely, has barely enough floor space to exercise in. We have a teeny tiny bar fridge, a kettle, and little else in the way of amenities. We’re not allowed to get a microwave, so our options are non-perishables delivered by the supermarket, Uber Eats or Deliveroo, or the food provided by the hotel.

Oh, the food.

It ranges from inedible to downright delicious. You never know what you’re going to get: one morning you’ll receive a bowl of unidentifiable beige chunks, the next a croissant and slab of banana bread. Lunches have been our favourite so far, featuring a salad, some kind of protein, and — best of all — a “question of the day”, with the chance to win a prize for the right answer (we’ve yet to win, so I can’t tell you what it is. A bottle of wine? The chance to stick your head out the window for five minutes?).

Dinner is usually a curry but we’ve also had pizza, pasta, and—bizarrely yet deliciously—a chicken thigh with tomato sauce on a slice of burnt sourdough.

I asked, and I’ve been told that the hotel staff are preparing the food themselves. It’s important to note that the hotel is running on skeleton staff, so the standards are nowhere near what you’d usually expect. It does need to be said that the team here are warm, friendly and clearly doing their best under challenging circumstances.

The other thing about hotel quarantine is that things that you probably wouldn’t even notice during a weekend-long stay begin to really grate on your nerves after day five. Take, for example, a poorly ventilated bathroom with a door that doesn’t quite close, or the constant drone of a refilling water tank. Hands down, the worst thing is that our windows don’t open. This isn’t the case for all rooms—I can see the other rooms reflected in the windows of the building across the road, and some of the quarantiners have been blessed with balconies.

With no fresh air, limited movement and a lack of scenery, all your emotions feel amplified. After a fatigue-fuelled sob session after our check-in, I spent the next days really quite chipper—sometimes downright jubilant.

The arrival of day six (and my PMS) sent me into a spiral of anxiety and hopelessness, with too much time to think, and not enough energy or focus to do anything constructive. I can see how anyone with a pre-existing mental health condition would really suffer, especially if they had to face this alone.

Of course, every bad situation has silver linings, and I’ve truly never felt so supported by friends, family and acquaintances. People I haven’t spoken to in months or even years have sent messages checking in, offering to send reinforcements, or suggesting answers to the lunchtime question of the day (yes, I’ve cheated every single time).

All things considered, it’s not as bad as I thought it would be. Will I miss this room once we leave? Absolutely not. On the other hand, I’m not sure whether it’s the messages stuck to the inside of windows in neighbouring buildings (one reads “Thank you for keeping us safe, you’ll be home soon!”), or the concern from friends, but there is this feeling of being part of a strange but important part of Australia’s history.

Every time I have a bitter thought about being stuck in quarantine, I think about what’s happening overseas. The people that are sick and dying, and how lucky we are to be in a country that (while very far from perfect), takes action to keep us safe.

It really is a privilege to have a safe place to stay, food to eat, and nurses to check in on us every day until it’s safe for us to come home…especially given the announcement yesterday that arrivals will be halved, and travellers expected to pay for their own quarantine.

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