2021-02-24 10:00:29 | Travel Quarantines: Enduring the Mundane, One Day at a Time


Story by: Lauren Sloss The New York Times World News

May Samali knew she’d reached her limit when she saw a tentacle emerging from her hotel dinner in Sydney, Australia.

“I called downstairs and said, ‘I’m a vegan now, thank you!’” she said. “It was just so much fish. I’d gotten to the point where even thinking about it made me gag.”

Ms. Samali swore off the seemingly unlimited seafood while in the middle of a required quarantine in the Hotel Sofitel in Sydney this December and early January. An executive coach, she was repatriating back to Australia after her U.S. work visa expired. In addition to an excess of fish, Ms. Samali was confined to her room all day, forbidden from stepping outside, for two weeks.

Air travelers around the world are finding themselves in similar situations, enduring mandatory government quarantines in hotels as they travel to countries that are very serious about containing the coronavirus.

Their quarantine is not the cushy experience of shorter-term quarantines or “resort bubbles” found in some destinations like Kauai and the British Virgin Islands, where you are able to roam relatively freely on a resort’s expansive grounds while waiting for a negative coronavirus test.

This is the more extreme, yet typical experience of quarantine life. These mandatory quarantines involve confinement to your room, 24 hours a day, for up to two weeks (assuming you test negative, that is). And with some exceptions, you are footing the bill — quarantine in New South Wales, Australia, for example, costs about $2,300, or 3,000 Australian dollars for a two-week quarantine for one adult, and up to 5,000 Australian dollars for a family of four to quarantine for two weeks (in January, Britain announced a mandatory 10-day quarantine from high-risk areas with a similar cost of about $2,500 for one adult).

Travelers now journeying to countries with mandatory hotel quarantines, which also include New Zealand, mainland China and Tunisia, generally must have compelling reasons to do so — visiting ailing family members, “essential” business travel or permanent relocation.

Most accept the inconvenience and inevitable claustrophobia of the quarantine as the price of traveling. But while there can be comfort in establishing some kind of routine resembling normal life, travelers find themselves craving human connection, fresh air and, well, different food (the staff at the Sofitel happily accommodated Ms. Samali’s request; she is still off fish).

Travel quarantine might seem manageable, even familiar, for those who have been living in places with shelter-in-place orders and working from home. Pete Lee, a San Francisco-based filmmaker, wasn’t concerned about the quarantine when he flew to Taiwan for work and to visit family.

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“I was a little bit cocky when I first heard about the requirement,” said Mr. Lee, during his eighth day at the Roaders Hotel in Taipei, Taiwan. “I was inside my San Francisco apartment for 22 out of 24 hours a day! But it’s a surprisingly intense experience. Those two hours make a big difference.”

Much of quarantine life is determined by your hotel. And depending on where you are traveling, you may get to choose your quarantine hotel, or you may be assigned upon arrival. Mr. Lee, in Taiwan, was able to choose and book his quarantine hotel from a list compiled by the Taiwanese government, complete with information about location, cost, room size and the presence (or lack thereof) of windows. He also footed the bill.

Similarly, Ouiem Chettaoui, a public policy specialist who splits her time between Washington, D.C., and Tunisia, was able to choose a hotel for her weeklong quarantine when returning to Tunis with her husband in September; she based her selection, the Medina Belisaire & Thalasso on price and proximity to the Mediterranean Sea (“We couldn’t see it, but we could hear it … at least, we told ourselves we could!” she said).

Brett Barna, an investment manager who relocated to Shanghai with his fiancée in November, could select a district in the city, but not the hotel itself. In an attempt to improve their odds, Mr. Barna chose the upscale Huangpu district where, he hoped, the hotels would be higher quality.

“There were four possible hotels in the district, three of which were nice enough. And then there was the budget option, the Home Inn,” he said. Mr. Barna and his fiancée, to their dismay, ended up paying for quarantine in that option, which had peeling wallpaper and bleach stains on the floor thanks to aggressive cleaning protocols.

In Australia and New Zealand, there’s no choice in the matter — upon landing, your entire flight is bused to a quarantine hotel with capacity. In most instances, travelers do not know where they are going until the bus pulls up at the hotel itself.

Joy Jones, a coach and educator who is based in San Francisco, traveled to New Zealand with her husband, a New Zealand citizen, and two young daughters in January. She learned before their departure that they would have no say where in the country they would be quarantined.

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In New Zealand, travelers who test negative for the virus are allowed on the hotel grounds for supervised constitutionals after checking in with guards at multiple checkpoints (masks and distancing are still required, and the rules can quickly change if there is any threat of an outbreak in the country). The ability to get fresh air and walk was crucial for Ms. Jones, and a key part of the routine she created for her family. Other aspects included morning yoga, remote school, nap times, playtime and art projects (her husband worked remotely from the bathroom).

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“We decorated a paper horse that we hung in our window — every day, a different part of it — that was a favorite activity. We’d have dance parties. And we’d watch a movie every night. We did what we could to bring some fun into it,” Ms. Jones said.

Meals become very important in quarantine life, to mark the passing of the time and as regular occurrences to break up the monotony of the day. Food quality, though, varies widely, as Mr. Sye learned in Taipei, where meals were ordered from nearby restaurants.

He recounted the highs of a Michelin-starred meal from Kam’s Roast Goose and the thoughtfulness of a Thanksgiving dinner decorated with a paper turkey to the low of an absolutely terrible pizza (at least it was accompanied by a beer).


Story continues…

Source References: The New York Times World News

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