Life in a quarantine hotel: ‘Soldiers took us to our rooms, which were guarded 24/7’

We asked you to tell us about life in mandatory Covid isolation. Here are your stories

Fourteen-day quarantine: Reka Markos ‘read eight books, finished Peaky Blinders, wrote, played music, danced, paced, ate mashed potato with chopsticks, stared into space’

Fourteen-day quarantine: Reka Markos ‘read eight books, finished Peaky Blinders, wrote, played music, danced, paced, ate mashed potato with chopsticks, stared into space’

 

‘On day seven a fly came in through the window. It was the closest to another living being I’d been all week’

REKA MARKOS
Hanoi, Vietnam
I’m on day 13 of 14 at Muong Thanh Hotel in Hanoi, itching to leave but also anxious about reintegrating into society after two weeks of solitude. Vietnam has been handling the pandemic really well, but just the day before I’m due to be released there’s been a breakout of more cases near Hanoi. So the safest place feels like it’s inside these four walls, yet I’d still rather take my chances outside.

The company I’ll be working for usually has two or three people to a room for $1,200, including three meals a day, two Covid tests and transportation from the airport to the hotel. For a private room it’s close to $2,000, same service. I paid for this myself, not including flights, which cost $1,800 from Dublin to Hanoi via Dubai, but there are some companies that sponsor both visa and flights.

Initially I was supposed to be sharing the room with someone I didn’t know, but their Covid test didn’t come through on time, or their flight got cancelled, so I’ve been alone – and it’s been the longest I’ve ever gone in my life without going outside or feeling human touch.

There were a few days when my anxiety was through the roof (the only part of me that left the building), and I found I was overthinking every mistake I’d made in my life

Once the jet lag wore off I was faced with the reality of having to fill the days with activities rather than endlessly napping and having sleepless nights. There were a few days when my anxiety was through the roof (the only part of me that left the building), and I found I was overthinking every mistake and bad decision I’d made in my life, with nothing better to think about.

But keeping in regular touch with family and friends – who were endlessly patient and kind, checking in, making sure I was still sane – was something to look forward to. I would message them during breakfast and then wait for Ireland to slowly wake, so we could videochat.

Another highlight was whenever my boyfriend came to visit, and I heard his voice in real life, from the street below, for the first time in 11 months, albeit that we were shouting at each other with a five-storey distance between us.

Although I found it challenging, there is a lot of peace to be found in spending time with yourself. On day seven a fly came in through the window. It was the closest to another living being I’d been all week. I read eight books, finished Peaky Blinders, wrote, played music, danced, paced, ate mashed potato with chopsticks, stared into space. I think similar measures would definitely help Ireland to curb the spread of the pandemic. A reasonable alternative would be to allow people to leave their accommodation once their negative test result has come through, rather than requiring the full 14-day isolation.

‘We didn’t realise how hard it would be never to be allowed to open any windows or doors’

NEASA NEARY
Singapore
We are a family of five – my husband and I and our three sons, aged 11, seven, and nine months – who had to move to Singapore from Malaysia in June 2020. We couldn’t choose which hotel to quarantine at: we just got told at the Singapore border that it would be Hotel Jen Orchard Gateway.

We got connecting rooms; the older two boys shared one, and my husband and I and our baby shared the other. At first it seemed fine, as we had brought snacks, nappies, games – anything we could think of – with us for the two-week quarantine. But we didn’t realise how hard it would be never to be allowed to open any windows or the doors to the corridor.

Neasa Neary with her husband and three children, who quarantined in Singapore
Neasa Neary with her husband and three children, who quarantined in Singapore

We requested a vacuum cleaner on day one – and got it, thankfully, as we could then keep the carpets in some way clean. With young children it can be a nightmare – all the crumbs, and no kitchen utensils or plates or cutlery. We had to eat with plastic containers on our knees. We ended up ordering bowls and cutlery from Ikea, as the hotel’s plastic cutlery was not easy for the kids. My baby refused to eat any of the food offered. Luckily, we got to order in food from outside restaurants, as well as groceries from supermarkets.We also had very kind friends who dropped in some necessities, which was much appreciated.

We were not tested for Covid during our stay, as that was only made compulsory in July. We had to report our temperatures three times a day to the health authorities in Singapore and to the hotel. The health authority also FaceTimed us every day to ensure we were in our room and feeling well. We had to pay a flat fee for our stay.

Ireland must bring in hotel quarantining: it is the only way to stop more virus from entering the country. The testing should be on arrival and on day 10 or 11 of the 14-day stay. It will limit travel to Ireland to essential journeys only, cutting out all the unnecessary movements currently taking place between Ireland and the rest of the world. It has to be done if Ireland is to recover from the pandemic. The quarantine is very hard with children, but it is possible with electronics, lots of chocolate and new toys every few days.

‘The police registered us, and soldiers took us to our rooms, which were guarded 24/7. We were not permitted to leave them’

GRANT HOURIGAN
Ireland
I am originally from Australia and have been living in Ireland since late 1999. In July 2020 I had to return to Australia, as my father was terminally ill. I spent 14 days in quarantine in Sydney. I was lucky that this was before you had to pay 3,000 Australian dollars – about €1,900 – for the privilege.

A police escort accompanied the military buses that took us to our hotel. The police registered us, and then soldiers took us to our rooms, which were guarded 24/7. We were not permitted to leave them. Our room was a decent size with good facilities.

We were tested for Covid on the second day and the second-last day. A community nurse called the room each day to check on us.

You had a choice of two meals, which were left outside your door, in a brown bag. When we arrived the room had 24 bottles of water in it, which was great. You could order additional coffees or alcohol from reception or via online shopping, although you were limited in what you could consume alcoholwise.

Have something to keep you occupied, such as work or a hobby; ensure you are set up with wifi; and keep talking to people when you can

Weekdays passed reasonably quickly, as I stayed on Irish time and was able to work remotely. I found that doing some in-room exercises each day – push-ups, sit-ups and so on – was beneficial. Weekends were slower, as having no work to occupy you meant that time dragged.

Setting yourself a daily exercise routine is important; also, have something to keep you occupied, such as work or a hobby; ensure you are set up with wifi, and have sufficient travel cables and connections; and keep talking to people when you can. A highlight for me was the 20-minute chat I had with one of the Irish nurses on the check-in call.

Overall it was very difficult, as I had the stress of not knowing if I would reach my home town before my father died. Thankfully I was able to get home and spend two weeks with him before he passed away, in August. Should anything happen to my mother I would face the same prospect. This is a challenge all expats are facing.I am not sure I would have the same view of quarantine had I not made it to see my father.

‘A country of six million people, crowded into an area not even the size of Co Louth, has had only 29 deaths from Covid-19’

DAVID HOLLYWOOD
Singapore
My wife, two children and I arrived in Singapore last August. After a couple of hours of polite interrogation and form filling, and being escorted to a waiting bus by masked and uniformed staff, we ended up looking out from the seventh floor of a government-sponsored hotel – not that our rooms had much of a view.

At least we knew it was a temporary arrangement that would enable us to work abroad. Quarantine can feel like being in a strangely surreal world: the journey from the airport to the city centre had been beautiful. There had been mile after mile of fabulous foliage, with trees, shrubs and flowers appearing everywhere from balconies and rooftops to roadsides and pathways. And no litter whatsoever. But we were told we’d have to adjust to no longer being free to make our own choices during our 14 days of isolation.

The starkest evidence of change was the food delivered to our door three times a day. It was so utterly different from what we’re used to, and we had no say in what it should be. Breakfast was usually bland noodles with fish or shrimps and broccoli. Lunch was rice, chicken and broccoli. Dinner was rice with spicy fish or chicken and more broccoli. Occasionally, we would be offered chicken curry at 7am, and once, to start the day, we were presented with baby octopus lurking in a forest of noodle soup. It is probable we lost weight in quarantine.

After a couple of days we learned to order out for meals that were more like what we were used to, such as burgers and fried eggs with chips – although I now find I’m indifferent to both curry and chips, foods I used to like.

The time difference between Ireland and Singapore took time for our body clocks to get used to. One of us was usually going to bed just as another was getting up.

Then there was the “Happy birthday, Mommy” experience.

“What do you mean? It’s not until tomorrow.”

“But this is tomorrow: we’re seven hours ahead.”

“So now you can enjoy a 31-hour celebration, and still be in the same day.”

A foot-long stick with cotton-wool tips was stuck six inches up each nostril. It seemed to tap off your inner skull as it was rotated to gather some sticky yuck for examination

It was also difficult learning how to wobble during an earth tremor. All I could think of doing was running to the window to see if the building was moving. But I am now an expert at the vibration shuffle. No damage was done, except maybe to the heart, but that’s fine, because it was just a response to an earthquake a couple of hundred kilometres offshore.

A far bigger challenge to the senses was the local Covid-19 swab test, which was nothing like what we saw on the news back home. Here, a foot-long stick with cotton-wool tips was stuck six inches up each nostril. It seemed to tap off your inner skull as it was rotated to gather some sticky yuck for examination. At least it was all over within 30 seconds.

Midway through our quarantine we requested a change of hotel environment, on medical grounds; our rooms had sealed windows, so it was impossible to breath anything other than the same recycled air all the time. The authorities were kind enough to move us to a completely different hotel, beside the sea, to rooms with a view and a balcony and fresh air.

To our delight (and, perhaps, fear), a sign in our new rooms warned: “Do not leave children unattended, keep a safe distance from the monkeys as they may turn aggressive, don’t leave clothes on the balcony as the monkeys might displace them, don’t feed the monkeys, the resort will not be responsible for any losses, damages and/or injuries caused by the monkeys.”

As the greenery outside our window was as thick as the jungle in Jurassic Park, we were inclined to believe what we read, and waited with excited disquiet to see if T Rex might take a shine to us, or if the long-tailed macaques would come looking for a new entertainment.

This time around the food was much better, as were the complimentary nonalcoholic drinks that were available all day. You still had to pay for wine, but that wasn’t a bad deal, considering we could now sit on a balcony all day in the sun, and dine, read, play board games, chat or doze (so long as someone else kept an eye out for the wildlife).

Once out of quarantine you can do what you like in Singapore, as long as you wear a mask, keep a reasonable distance from other people, and don’t meet in groups of more than eight

The hotel telephones rang at least twice a day with questions from a government office for each of us individually, and to prove we were in our rooms. A couple of times we were also asked to appear on our smartphone screen in our room. There was no escape.

So does it work? Yes. Once out of quarantine you can do what you like in Singapore, as long as you wear a mask, keep a reasonable distance from other people, and don’t meet in groups of more than eight. All the shops, restaurants and bars are open, and busy, and it’s easy to catch a taxi or bus or train. Credit is due to those on the front line of Singapore’s border control: a country of six million people, crowded into an area not even the size of Co Louth, has had fewer than 60,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and just 29 deaths. Most of the deaths were at the beginning of the pandemic, while everyone was trying to work out how to combat it. [Ireland, with a smaller population, has had almost 200,000 cases and more than 3,000 deaths.]

Its authoritarian approach allowed Singapore to quickly introduce non-negotiable rules, and now all new cases are caught at the border, as people arrive, and by the quarantine procedure we went through.

‘Ireland has been increasingly limp-wristed in its efforts to tackle travel. I’m absolutely in favour of mandatory quarantine’

UNA McGIRR
Singapore
My 16-year-old daughter and I are on day seven of our 14-day mandatory quarantine in Singapore. We’re long-term residents, having lived here for 13 years, and fully understood this would be required to re-enter the country. Travellers are charged 2,000 Singapore dollars – about €1,300 – for the 14-day stay. This includes three meals a day. You pay an additional 125 dollars, or just under €80, for the PCR test that has to come back negative before you can be released.

Singapore was one of the pioneers of mandatory quarantine; it has been in place here since Covid first hit, at the end of January 2020. We required pre-approval from the government here to return to Singapore, despite being residents. Pre-approval gave us a three-day window to arrange flights around January 20th, with a negative PCR test required within the 72 hours before flying.

Arrival was extremely smooth, with plenty of officials to guide us quickly through several immigration and health checkpoints to our transport. Hotels are chosen by the government, and it’s a lottery – we weren’t informed of our assigned hotel until we pulled up outside. Fortunately, we lucked out: Swissôtel The Stamford is one of the best hotels in Singapore, so we’re really comfortable. It’s a standard en-suite room, probably 400-500sq ft. (Big bonus: we have a balcony!)

We can’t leave it under any circumstances – food, laundry, deliveries from home and so on are dropped at the door. We were psyched for this, so we’re managing fine. We’re mostly ordering food via Deliveroo etc, although the quarantine fee includes three hotel meals a day if we want them.

We report our temperatures three times daily via a quarantine app, with calls from the ministry of manpower or ministry of health every couple of days to check in. We have pre-checkout PCR tests scheduled on site for day 13; assuming a negative result, we will finally be home the following day.

The room that Una McGirr and her daughter quarantined in
The room that Una McGirr and her daughter are quarantining in

We have a good daily routine that is giving us structure. I’m working while my daughter studies for her IGCSEs. We break the day with yoga and workouts, plenty of Netflix and making goofy TikToks. We have heaps of calls with family and friends, who also drop off goody bags during the day. (We can see them from our balcony, which is always a boost.)

Singapore is an island nation, like Ireland. It’s got a slightly bigger population crammed into an area smaller than Co Dublin. Like Ireland, it’s heavily reliant on tourism and imports, all of which have been heavily affected by Covid. We share border crossings with Malaysia, where 500,000 people crossed each day before the pandemic, for trade and work. Rapid antigen testing has now been introduced at the border, to allow inbound trade and haulage to continue.

I think Ireland has been increasingly limp-wristed in its efforts to tackle Covid in respect of travel. We don’t even have accurate data on the number of imported cases or, historically, any meaningful deterrents to travelling out of Ireland. We know from countries that are successful in “living with Covid”, like Singapore, that travel is where risk can be hugely mitigated, so I’m absolutely in favour of mandatory quarantine and more impactful, legally enforceable regulations to stop people going abroad for now.

The positive impact is undeniable: in Singapore we’ve had 29 mortalities in 12 months; schools, universities, hospitality, factories and businesses are all open; and sports are back. We all feel safe! For this normality we must wear masks everywhere outside home, and no more than eight people can gather socially. It’s a small price to pay for a normal life. If 14 days in a hotel is a part of the price, we’re happy to pay it.

‘When I finished my two weeks in isolation I was living in a Covid-free city – I can go to restaurants, clubs and festivals normally’

FEARGHUS KELLY
Perth, Australia
When I arrived in Australia in September I was packed on to a bus and escorted by the police to a hotel in the middle of Perth. I was expecting to hate the fortnight, but it turned out to be a relaxing break. I filled the hours with YouTube workouts, yoga, reading, Netflix and podcasts. Hotel staff phoned every day to chat, check in on my mental health and make sure the wifi, TV and so on were working. Three meals were delivered to my room every day, and there were always two options. I ordered Uber Eats if I didn’t like what was on the menu, and got groceries delivered.

There’s a big industry around the hotel quarantine in Perth: you can rent exercise bikes, weights and treadmills for the two weeks. The hotel sends up jigsaws and board games to help pass the time. Some people ask friends and family to drop in PlayStations; others get houseplants delivered, to brighten up their rooms. My friends in the city dropped off iced coffees at reception, to get sent up, and called me from the street, where I could just about see them.

I tried to Zoom or WhatsApp someone every day, to keep in touch with the real world. It seemed a bit intense at first – my only face-to-face contact over the two weeks was a nurse in a hazmat suit jabbing a swab into my nose. That said, when I finished my two weeks in isolation I was living in a Covid-free city – no masks or further quarantine here. I can go to restaurants, clubs and festivals normally, and there is essentially a 0 per cent chance of an outbreak happening with mandatory quarantine in place. Yes, it was a lonely fortnight, but given the life I can lead now I’d happily do it again.

‘When the bus driver announced our quarantine hotel as the Sheraton Grand, several passengers erupted in cheers’

ROSS CULLINANE
Canberra, Australia
In November I moved from Dublin to Canberra to work as a doctor in critical care. The first half of the journey, from Dublin to Sydney via Abu Dhabi, felt relatively normal, but as I approached Australia the airports became emptier.

The surreality of living in our coronavirus-influenced world was fully realised when I arrived in Sydney. After collecting my luggage I was ushered towards the exit, where I found a gathering of police officers and military personnel waiting alongside a line of buses.

My luggage and I were loaded on to the bus by the military. The driver gave a brief summary of the hotel-quarantine system and the rules we would have to live under for the next fortnight. These included not being able to leave the hotel room and being limited to a delivery of a single bottle of wine a day.

At this point we didn’t know where the bus was taking us – even the driver only found out once our luggage had been loaded and the doors closed. When he announced our quarantine hotel as the Sheraton Grand on Hyde Park, several passengers erupted in cheers. Feeling weary after a long journey, it was a boost to know I had been lucky enough to get one of the more luxurious hotels.

The check-in process took nearly two hours, after which military personnel showed me to my room and closed the door behind me. Then the reality struck me: I wouldn’t see beyond these four walls for the next 14 days.

It quickly became clear that, although I may have been staying in a five-star hotel, the day-to-day experience didn’t live up to that standard. As I was confined in my room, the hotel’s facilities may as well not have existed. Meals came from an outside catering company, not from the Sheraton Grand’s regular menus.

Each of the three meals a day was delivered with a knock on the door and a ring of the doorbell. I then had to wait 15 seconds before opening the door to see what delights (or otherwise) were in store for me. The quality was variable – often disappointing, in fact. Imagine dining on lukewarm in-flight meals for two weeks.

The view of Hyde Park from Ross Cullinane’s room
The view of Hyde Park from Ross Cullinane’s room

Still, the 14 days passed more quickly than I would have imagined. Mornings and evenings were typically taken up with phone and video calls to friends and family back in Ireland. My mother soon had a clock on her phone set to Sydney time, so that she knew when it was safe to check in on me.

The afternoon and early evening were my quiet time – an opportunity to get some exercise, read and plan for the practicalities of life beyond hotel quarantine. It was also a good time to keep in touch with Australia-based friends.

I would sit by my great window looking down over Hyde Park and the road below. I saw commuters in the morning, workers getting their coffees and lunches, yoga groups in the park, friends gathering to eat and socialise – all things that you look on differently when you are trapped in a room, unable even to open a window. Having a balcony, or even a window that opened, would have made the experience easier. It’s strange to live without fresh air for so long.

Every morning I received a phone call from the quarantine nursing staff (more than half of whom were Irish), who were checking in to make sure that I had no Covid symptoms – and that I was managing mentally with the quarantine experience. Access to a counselling service and GP was available on request. I had two Covid tests, on days three and 10, with a nurse arriving at the door in full PPE to take the swabs. These were the only occasions in the entire fortnight that I saw another person up close.

On leaving day I was packed up well in advance of my departure time. As soon as the clock struck 4pm I was permitted to leave my room and go down to the hotel lobby, where police gave me a quarantine certificate. From there I was directed to the exit, where fresh air, hot food and freedom beckoned.

‘My room was very expensive: I paid about twice the normal price. Three meals a day were included, but the food was dreadful’

ANN MURPHY
Penang, Malaysia
I am originally from Northern Ireland and have lived in Malaysia for 28 years with my Malaysian husband. We have one son, who is 25 and lives in Canada. Our daughter is 20 and was here in Penang with us during lockdown. She and I returned to the North in July for her to prepare to start university, in Exeter.

While we were away the Malaysian government decided to impose a two-week quarantine for returning residents and Malaysians. In December they eased it to 10 days – or seven with a negative test Covid taken within the 72 hours before departure. I decided to do it as I had been away from my husband for five months.

One of the breakfasts Ann Murphy was given during her hotel quarantine
One of the breakfasts Ann Murphy was given during her hotel quarantine

There was a lot of paperwork to complete before departure: permission to return by Malaysian immigration, a letter to state that I would accept quarantine on arrival, permission from the Malaysian embassy in London to board the flight, and an up-front payment of the equivalent of €1,600. This covered the hotel stay, the administration and a Covid test on day five.

My room was very expensive, though: I paid about twice the normal price. Three meals a day were included (as was a large bottle of water), but the food was dreadful – I normally love Malaysian food. Alcohol was forbidden, and anything extra, such as milk or tea bags, had to be paid for.

We had no contact with anyone until our Covid test on day five. Meals were left outside our door. No room cleaning was done. If we wanted fresh towels etc we had to ask for them. I think the quarantine measures have helped contain the virus here in Malaysia, but the quarantine experience could be much improved. We felt more like prisoners than hotel guests, even though we had to bear the full cost.

‘Turns out quarantine is not conducive to productivity – I watched three seasons of Breaking Bad and two of Peaky Blinders, and failed to learn a word of Chinese’

RORY MADIGAN
Kaohsiung, Taiwan
I am a recent graduate of Columbia University, in the US. I am in Taiwan completing a Fulbright fellowship – I will be teaching English to elementary-school students. Taiwan has had one of the best responses to Covid, and I now understand why. As soon as I arrived I was transported to a quarantine hotel in the city of Kaohsiung, in the south of the island. For the next 336 hours – two full weeks – I had no human contact. The hotel provided me with three meals a day. They would drop them off outside my room, ring the doorbell, and quickly leave without ever seeing me. The local government also called almost every day to ensure I was symptom-free. I watched three seasons of Breaking Bad and two of Peaky Blinders, and failed to learn a word of Chinese – turns out quarantine is not conducive to productivity. After the two weeks I was transported to a second hotel, for a semi-quarantine period of about 10 days. During this time I could finally go out to pick up food and go for walks. After that I was tested for Covid.

‘It would take me eight minutes to walk 1,000 steps, so I would call friends while walking around the room for 1.5 hours before work’

LISA CRADDOCK
Northern Territory, Australia
I have just returned to Australia, where I have lived for four years. I expected the two-week mandatory hotel quarantine to be quite a challenge, but I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it.

I set myself some non-negotiable tasks every day: I made sure I was out of bed by 8am and didn’t allow myself back into it until 8pm; I also made myself walk 10,000 steps every day in my room. It would take me eight minutes to walk 1,000 steps, so I would call friends or listen to podcasts while walking around the room for nearly 1.5 hours in the morning, before work. I would also exercise for 30 minutes during my lunch break.

Monday-Friday I was working remotely, which kept me busy. Friends dropped in a few care packages, which included books to read, colouring books (very relaxing), bath bombs and face masks, and some nice snacks.

I had very low expectations of the food from what people had said on Instagram. Much to my surprise it was quite decent. I would make my own breakfast every morning (yogurt and berries I could store in the fridge), and the lunches provided were always tasty and healthy. Dinner was hit and miss, so I would order Uber Eats every other night. If you were doing it on a budget and didn’t want to order food, you could survive easily off the food provided in Sydney.

I set myself a few challenges – walk 20,000 steps in a day, learn how to French-braid my hair – which kept me busy at weekends, when I wasn’t working. I was exhausted by the time I made it to bed every night, and, with the exception of finding day 10 mentally challenging, I actually really enjoyed the two weeks. If you are keen to get into a country for a long-term trip or permanently, a fortnight of alone time is a small sacrifice.

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