There’s a knock at the door some time between 7am-7.30am. Breakfast has been delivered. It’s dropped outside the hotel room door but we’ve been instructed to wait two minutes so that the staff member delivering has enough time to scamper off and avoid getting infected. We don’t rush out of bed to collect it – it’s not like we have anywhere pressing to be. Some time closer to 7.30am, Michael rolls out of bed, masks up and hauls in the plastic bags filled with our morning sustenance. The bags contain two tubs of Greek yoghurt, two fruit cups, two boxes of unsweetened apple juice, two mini bread rolls and two plastic containers of salad, with slices of salami and ham. After boiling the kettle and brewing up a cup of tea & instant coffee with long life milk, I eat the passionfruit yoghurt and stash the rest of the items. I’m still full from the fish and chips we ordered to the room last night after rejecting the “butter chicken & rice” which was initially delivered for dinner.
I have a partial plan for getting through the next 14 days – part of which involves keeping these “updates.” They say it’s helpful to create a routine so that your days aren’t totally aimless, so I have an idea to fill my mornings with writing, physio exercises and social calls. Given time zone differences it makes sense to dedicate the afternoons to remote work – checking emails etc. It’s only Day 1 however, so first things first – I pull out my laptop, create a new Word file and type a heading: “Quarantine Rules.” Although Michael and I have been together for about 17 years now, and are no strangers to living and working in each others pockets, living in a single hotel room without being able to leave even to pace up and down the corridor is a whole new board game. Creating the rules is another entertainment exercise but are also intended to provide us (or perhaps mostly me) with a framework for surviving this period of confinement, to ensure that we come out more or less whole.
- All residents must change out of their pyjamas before eating lunch (nude days are however acceptable)
- Television must not be on during weekdays between 11.00am-6.00pm
- Music shall be listened to by using headphones only unless otherwise agreed to by all residents
- All work calls shall necessitate the use of headphones
- All residents are entitled to one hour per day quiet time where they may totally ignore the other resident
- Raising of voices is totally prohibited
- Should a conflict arise between residents, both will be subject to 20 minutes “time out” in order to prevent a breach of Rule #6
- A maximum of 1 movie may be watched per weekday
- Crockery/cutlery must be washed after each use
- External food may be ordered for dinner meal service should the meal supplied be below acceptable standard
- Food shall only be consumed on top of the sheets not inside the bed
(Number 11 was included as a late addition as a result of the beetroot stain on the top sheet from last night’s burger.)
I’ve barely finished the Rules List when the hotel phone rings. A chirpy, young Australian voice introduces herself as “Bec.” She’s calling to ask us a few basic medical questions. I humor her – other than my recent surgery, Michael and I are fairly unremarkable health-wise. She’s tells us someone will be coming to conduct our next PCR test sometime on Day 2 – both nose and throat. Apparently they’re not taking any chances.
A good chunk of the day is spent looking for and photographing random objects within our room or that we can see from our window as part of the Day 1 quarantine challenge set by one of my girlfriends. I need to find an item for each letter of the alphabet, photograph it and make the photos into a collage. It reminds me of the game I Spy that we used to play when I was little. I’m most impressed with my creativity for letter X which I find later in the afternoon being the shape of the wooden luggage rack – although it’s not really the name of an item I think it still counts.
It’s definitely heartening to have so many friends back in Oz with insight to what “hotel quarantine” actually means, reaching out with offers of calls and entertainment. I’m planning to lean on them frequently and shamelessly over the next 14 days.
In the afternoon I log onto my work laptop, respond to some work emails, have a call with my physio, chat to a girlfriend, then suddenly at around 5.45pm there’s another knock at the door. It’s dinner already – roast chicken with some potatoes, pumpkin and a plastic tub of salad. We let it sit for almost an hour – it’s too early for dinner – so it’s sub-lukewarm by the time we finally eat it. Apart from the temperature and obvious lack of sauce/jus/gravy it’s not too bad really – although it does explain the sporadic purchase of microwaves by those in quarantine.
It’s hard not to compare the standard of quarantine here with what we arranged back on compound when the pandemic first broke out a year ago. Basic items placed in quarantine accommodation for returning workers included a microwave and a kettle after we were subjected to constant bitching from the “inmates” that the food was either cold when it arrived or delivered too early for mealtime and was therefore cold by the time they were ready to eat. The specially arranged quarantine accommodation on compound was no palace but an effort was still made within the limitations of a West African location under lockdown to improve the living situation for those temporarily housed there. It is therefore surprising that after all this time some places still haven’t identified some minimum standards that could improve a stay in quarantine – particularly where the stay is for an extended period. The most common complaints people generally have relate to a) lack of access to fresh air/sunshine, b) shitty food, and c) lack of space. Around the world certain countries have done what they can to take this complaints into consideration (without necessarily shortening the overall quarantine period) some for example, allow an hour of outdoor time for those in quarantine each day (perhaps not unlike the exercise hour depicted in prison movies). If we’re not prepared to allow self-quarantine, perhaps some minimum standards could be implemented to ensure that quarantine would be conducted only in a) self-contained apartments with cooking facilities/space to walk around, b) hotel rooms that contain a balcony or c) hotel rooms only if they have an opening window and regular, controlled access to the outside is provided. Setting such standards would ensure the risk of infection continues to be minimal, while at the same time improving the quality of one’s quarantine stay, including overall attitude and mental health.
Let’s be honest – of course it’s far from the most horrible experiences and people around the world have endured much worse over the last 12 month – but at the same time, are there improvements to be made? I would say that’s a definite yes.