We’re greeted at the airport by people dressed in PPE and army uniforms. It’s the same old story – temperature checks, a dollop of hand sanitizer, are you bringing any food or wood products into the country. It’s taken us a while to get here. It’s my first trip to Perth – a last minute change after our tickets to Brisbane were cancelled.
We clear immigration and hand over our yellow fever vaccine booklets for inspection when asked. There is no mention of the PCR test certificates that are required to enter the country and which we obtained in Dubai. We declare the cashew nuts & crackers we’ve packed as contingency snacks, but forget to mention the wooden candle sticks I was given as a birthday gift many years ago. The X-Ray picks them up but it’s not an issue. After all, they were originally purchased in Australia.
An army guy directs us to a police officer sitting behind a perspex screen. The cop asks for our QR code to enter WA which we had to apply for before leaving. He scans to check and it’s all in order. He doesn’t ask for the Australian Travel Declaration which all arriving passengers are directed to fill out 72 hours prior to landing. He asks whether we have been tested for COVID-19 but doesn’t ask to see our negative certificates. It seems somewhat ironic given the airline almost refused us boarding in Dubai because our certificates didn’t show our passport number as apparently required by the Australian authorities. He then tells us that today is Day 0 and that Day 1 of quarantine will start tomorrow. My head droops in disappointment – we’ve been told that some other States count arrival day as Day 1, and when you’re talking 14 days stuck in one room, every extra hour matters.
In the last week, we’ve been tested for COVID-19 three times; 1) prior to leaving our home in West Africa, 2) upon arrival at the airport in Dubai, and 3) again in Dubai at a drive-through testing facility which we visited in a taxi. We are told that we’ll be tested another two times in the next 14 days. I don’t mind the frequency of testing – it’s reassuring to know we’re negative and we don’t want to risk infecting our families – although I would take the throat swab over the nose any day of the week.
We’re told we’ll be staying in the Pan Pacific hotel which we’ve never heard of, and are directed to a waiting area in the airport with plastic chairs socially distanced. After about 40 minutes, the buses finally arrive and we are shepherded out to load our bags. Michael is in charge of loading our suitcases on the bus – after having back surgery four months ago, I’m not able to lift my fair share which is frustrating. Worried I’ll look precious or lazy I mention the surgery to an airport worker. He lifts up the smaller suitcases for me and calls me sweetie with a kindly Aussie accent which makes me smile.
We board the bus and wait while it’s loaded with more and more quarantine lepers like ourselves. I gaze out at the sunset while we wait. It’s an incredible one – deep reds and gold splashed across the sky. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a sunset so dramatic and so vast as that.
Once the bus is finally loaded, we set off for the hotel. The police escort seems overkill, but perhaps there have been prior instances of passengers hijacking the quarantine buses in order to escape their fate. We pull up at the curb outside the hotel lobby. Waiting for us are 2-3 hotel staff members in face shields, masks – full PPE. Behind them, the hotel lobby is haemorrhaging people – free young workers dressed in black jogging with their backpacks in groups of 3 and 4. Apparently the uncontaminated need to leave the vicinity before we are allowed to enter.
The bus doors open but we are only allowed off in small groups. The hotel staff in PPE roll luggage trolleys towards people from a distance as they alight from the bus. One staff member yells at us to stay on the bus – there are too many potentially infected people outside on the pavement or in the lobby trying to check in now. One lady tries to access her suitcase from the front seat of the bus where it has been stored. The bus driver, panicked, puts his gloved hands in front of him and refuses to assist “I can’t touch it, I can’t touch it.” We watch from the bus doorway as two small Asian women try to manoeuvre their fully loaded baggage trolleys up the ramp. The trolley is twice their size.
At check-in, the staff ask if we want 1 king bed or 2 queens. “The biggest room you’ve got” I say. Michael and I will both be working remotely during the quarantine period so separate work spaces are helpful, as is extra space in general. “The rooms are all standard-size” a staff member replies curtly. “Uh, king bed then I guess” I stumble, “do the windows at least open?” I’m sure the staff get such questions all the time – “unfortunately no.”
With Michael pushing the trolley we are escorted at a distance towards the lift and head up to the tenth floor. I swipe the keycard and open the door to our temporary abode. It takes a minute for the reality to register. It’s a bog-standard hotel room. One bed, small bathroom, single desk, TV. Not quite the 5-star standard advertised on Google. There is a large window through which we face another quarantine hotel, the Novotel. To the left, you can see the Swan River.
I open my suitcase and dig out the industrial can of Lysol I packed and start spraying every surface. Given most positive cases out of Australia seem to connect to hotel quarantine I’m not taking any chances on their cleaning standards.
One box. Two people. No sunshine and no breeze. It’s gonna be a long two weeks.