What it's like to spend 14 days in a quarantine hotel

Telegraph Travel
·5-min read
"We were just grateful to be allocated a clean room with en suite bathroom – though there was no outside access or fresh air," says Karen Edwards - Karen Edwards
"We were just grateful to be allocated a clean room with en suite bathroom – though there was no outside access or fresh air," says Karen Edwards - Karen Edwards

Quarantine hotels are all-too familiar in Asia, New Zealand and Australia. Since the early days of the pandemic, international arrivals have been holed up in these closely-guarded properties for up to 14 days at a time, compelled to see out their quarantine period in extreme isolation.

Travellers are confined to one hotel room or suite, often with no fresh air, limited entertainment, and little choice of sustenance. It’s claustrophobic, yes – but for many on essential journeys, there is simply no choice.

By contrast, the UK’s own approach to quarantine has been relatively lax. You can spend your self-isolation in the comfort of your home, or a friend’s, with little chance of even a phone call from the police. But now, the Government is seeking to tighten its border controls – and looking to Australasias quarantine hotels for inspiration.

So what is it like to spend 14 days in isolation, confined to a single hotel room?

'We were escorted from the airport by the police – flashing lights and everything'

By Karen Edwards, travel writer

Each morning, at 730am, I’d wake up startled to a loud knock on our hotel room door. I’d wearily open an eye and for a split second consider ignoring the calls of ‘room service’ and letting my jetlagged eyelids succumb to their heaviness. But if I did, my two boiled eggs – which had to last me until lunch time – would go cold.

Okay, I’m up.

Welcome to hotel quarantine at the Hyatt Regency in Perth. The name sounds glamorous, and with the standard cost for a 14-day stay at AUD$3,000 (£1,700) for one person or AUD$4,000 (£2,200) for a couple – paid by the guest unless you provide proof of hardship – you’d hope for some luxury. But any perks were few and far between.

My partner and I were just grateful to be allocated a clean room with en suite bathroom – although there was no outside access or fresh air. Thankfully, floor-to-ceiling windows let in plenty of light and we had ample space for a king bed, TV and desk.

The hotel room where Karen and her husband spent 14 days - Karen Edwards
The hotel room where Karen and her husband spent 14 days - Karen Edwards

On some days, the lack of fresh air would bring on a stifling headache and I’d sleep during the day for some respite.

Room cleaning wasn’t an option, so spare towels and sheets were left on a chair for us to manage. Two assigned plates and mugs were to be used as needed – and we requested a small cup of washing-up liquid for the dishes, and laundry powder for our clothes. We cleaned both in the bath.

While the food wasn’t the usual Hyatt standard, or very nutritious, it wasn’t to be sniffed at. Lunch was typically a baguette (gluten free for me) and dinner varied from chow mein to grilled fish. There were no options, but straight-forward allergies were catered for.

Each day, we guzzled our meals as if we hadn’t eaten in weeks. Except for the days when we received our food last: cold, dry fish isn’t appetising even when you’re ravenous, never mind when the experience is costing £160 per night.

A typical breakfast in quarantine - Karen Edwards
A typical breakfast in quarantine - Karen Edwards
... and a typical supper - Karen Edwards
... and a typical supper - Karen Edwards

Thankfully, early on in our stay, a food angel appeared in the form of our friend Schalk, who delivered us a fresh fruit and snack package. We found out later that the bag underwent security checks before it reached us 30 minutes later, as did the Uber Eats Thai green curry delivery we had one night.

All the while, the occasional muffled buzz of a security radio – two guards patrolled each of the seven floors – was a reminder that this was serious. We were doing this to help protect the community.

For us, this travel was necessary. My Australian partner’s UK visa was expiring, and he had no choice but to leave the country. We also knew we had limited time to get to Australia before incoming passenger caps prevented us from flying.

From the moment we landed in Perth, the process was strict and efficient. Our temperature was tested on arrival and we were directed to a streamlined Border Force check where I had to show pre-authorised permission to enter the country as immediate family of an Australian citizen. Once clear, police officers took our contact details, before allocating a hotel and showing us onto a bus.

'We cleaned our dishes and laundry in the bath' - Karen Edwards
'We cleaned our dishes and laundry in the bath' - Karen Edwards

We were told we would be tested for Covid-19 the following day and on day 12. If we tested negative to both, we could leave on day 14. A police motorbike escorted us through the city to the hotel, flashing lights and all.

Despite the merciless protocols, hotel quarantine has, on the whole, been successful in Australia. Other than the Melbourne outbreak in July 2020 – where private security staff allegedly mingled with guests before socialising in public – and the odd scaled fence, thousands of Covid cases have been identified and treated in quarantine.

At the time of writing, over 400,000 Australians are thought to have returned since borders shut on 20 March 2020, with an average of 10 cases being identified and prevented from spreading each day. The country has suffered a total of 28,721 cases and 909 deaths – significantly less than the UK has been registering in 24 hours recently.

Our final knock came at 6pm on day 14. Once checked out, we rolled our suitcases onto the pavement and took in a deep breath of glorious fume-filled city air.

If introduced in the UK, mandatory hotel quarantine will severely hit already-suffering businesses. As someone who works in the travel industry, I have witnessed first-hand the impact of border closures on the global tourism trade.

Saying that, quarantining travellers has undoubtedly saved lives in Australia. If this is to be implemented in the UK, as many hotels as possible must be made available so incoming passengers are not restricted, and residents are not left stranded abroad – as the case is for many Australians. Testing must also be efficient, and there needs to be an explicit end date in sight.