Quarantine-on-arrival sounds simple enough, but what are the things they don’t tell you? Emma Cooke explains what to expect...
1. If you aren’t Covid positive, the transfer bus will probably fix that for you
If you’re frustrated over the thought of being quarantined while Covid-free, don’t worry – here in the UK, the Cabinet is deliberating bussing arrivals to their quarantine hotel. Being stuck in close quarters with fellow travellers may well optimise your chances of catching the virus.
Mariella Frostrup has already had experience of one of these joyful transports, after being unexpectedly put into quarantine in Jamaica last month: "Finally a fleet of yellow buses pulled up onto which we were herded. Once on board it seemed obvious that, on a bus crammed with passengers, hot and sweaty from hours on the ground, we were more in danger of catching Covid than we had been during any of our cautious preceding months."
2. There may be some unexpected guests in your room
Pro tennis players currently quarantining in hotels ahead of the Australian Open have discovered they’re sharing their rooms with unusual roommates: mice. Kazak player Yulia Putintseva complained she couldn’t sleep because of the scurrying sounds – critters frolicking around her room.
it’s actually a lot of them! Not even 1 in my room now🤦🏼♀️ pic.twitter.com/uUaicOhoB5
— Yulia Putintseva (@PutintsevaYulia) January 19, 2021
To add insult to injury, you may then be subtly accused of encouraging your unwelcome guests: Victoria state police minister Lisa Neville suggested there "might be more to the story" in response to the infestation reports.
"As I understand there may have been some feeding going on,” she said to reporters, before encouraging players to "minimise" their interaction with the mice. To be fair to the players, quarantine can be lonely, you have to make friends where you can.
3. Your overseas trip will feel more like lockdown than lockdown did
Once in your hotel room, you’ll quickly miss those heady days of lockdown. Remember when you could go outside for exercise? When you had a whole house to wander around instead of a single hotel room? Or even when you were allowed to shop for your own groceries. Being told under no circumstances to poke your head outside the front door, and having security cameras pointed at your every possible escape route will likely make you feel even more caged than lockdown ever did. "There are worse places in the world to quarantine" is a frequent refrain of those locked up in hotels overseas, which is no doubt true, but quarantine abroad is still no walk in the park – quite literally, because any kind of park walking is banned.
The particulars of the UK's monitoring system for hotels have yet to be clarified, but it is possible you might have to text a selfie to the police, which will then be cross referenced with GPS data and facial recognition software to check you are where you say you are. If that sounds too dystopian to be true, unfortunately that particular rule is already in place in Poland.
4. You'll have to wave goodbye to your year’s holiday allocation
So, lockdown is over (we've yet to be told when this might happen), you’ve weighed up the risks and decided you just can’t go without a holiday abroad. Fair enough, but be sure to hand over the majority of your year’s holiday allowance in exchange (unless you are among the lucky people who are able to work remotely).
No trying to be clever with your dates – I learnt this the hard way on a recent trip, booking a shorter holiday with tests planned down to the wire and inadvertently ended up in quarantine for the vast majority of it. Learn from my mistake: n the current climate, being optimistic about timings will get you nowhere. Instead, plan for the worst and give yourself a solid chunk (at least two weeks) of holiday to counteract your time in quarantine.
5. You'll be so, so bored
I only did quarantine for five days, and by the end of it was ready to tear my hair out with the sheer boredom of it all. You may think there's not much difference between lockdown and quarantine, but there is. Firstly, the amount of space you have to move around in is cut dramatically – pacing a bedroom is much less satisfying than pacing your living room. Secondly, you're in an alien space, so whiling away the hours by painting your shelves or reorganising your bookcase is off-limits. Luckily most hotels provide free WiFi, and we were eventually able to hook Netflix up to our ropey TV, which alleviated things somewhat (but best to pack a HDMI cable to be safe).
Being prepared is the best defence against the quarantine blues. The Australian government has suggested hobbies like knitting and calligraphy to travellers, so consider bringing a few new hobbies with you. Yoga videos are similarly quite good for a bit of exercise in cramped environs.
6. You'll spend more on a Best Western than you ever have in your life
"Quarantine on arrival" is also code for "get your wallet out" – who knew? In Cambodia, you will need to hand over a £1,500 deposit when you arrive at the airport, to cover "Covid-19 service charges" before you head to your quarantine accommodation. Quarantine hotels are similarly pricey. The cost of 14 days in a quarantine hotel for an adult is £1,692 in Australia, £1,630 in New Zealand and £642 in Thailand – the three countries that have introduced the measure so far.
Here in the UK, Best Western has announced that it could open its hotels as quarantine facilities within two days. Guests can look forward to "quite a sterile experience" and a bill of £1,500 for 10 days. But at least all your in-room meals will be supervised by private security guards, so there is a whiff of the VIP about the experience.
7. You’ll have to clean your own room
The horror. Those £1,500-plus room fees, unsurprisingly due to social distancing rules, don’t include housekeeping. That major joy of hotel rooms – reverting back to your messiest teenage self – is no more, and instead you’ll find yourself requesting washing up liquid and laundry powder for a jolly old clean up of clothes and dishes in your bathtub. Sheets, which will be left outside your room at regular intervals, must also be changed by your own fair hands too.
8. You’ll get closer to your partner, but it will also be stressful
They say times of crisis and stress are what really make a couple and this is undoubtedly true in quarantine. Having completed a period in self-isolation with my other half, I can confirm that you’ll grow closer as you stare yearningly out the window together and take turns to slip money under the door for your evening food delivery. But there will also be at least one time you seriously reconsider your love for them – possibly after they loudly stir their drink just that bit too long, or you wake up to discover half the rum punch is gone, again. Expect a baptism of fire for your relationship one way or the other.
9. Food will become very important to you
Little becomes more thrilling under quarantine than what you will eat, though don't expect haute cuisine. Rules range between properties, but generally the hotels provide three meals a day at rigidly set times (be up at 7am for your eggs, writes travel writer Karen Edwards, or deal with your hunger pangs until lunch), many of which have been likened to aeroplane food. Dietary requirements are supposedly taken into consideration, but choice is highly limited. You may wish to take advantage of the local takeout options, if your hotel allows deliveries – rules can vary, but most do.
Regardless of the quality, the people who deliver said food will become elevated to god-like status in your eyes and you’ll likely leave with lasting relationships. During a recent quarantine in Barbados, I discovered the details of Mike via a Tripadvisor thread, who delivers groceries and, more importantly, rum punch to those in quarantine. His Whatsapp is still saved in my phone. Edwards, currently quarantining in Australia, also speaks fondly of her ‘food angel’ Schalk, a friend who undergoes her hotel's arduous security checks to deliver a daily fresh fruit and snack package to her hotel room – this is where having international friends will really come in handy.
10. What room you get is pot luck
Unfortunately for those hoping to buy their way into better digs, travellers do not get a choice of hotel in mandatory quarantine. In Australia, for instance, people do not know in advance where they will be staying and are warned there is no guarantee of access to a balcony or open window – the system will be much the same in the UK.