My Trip to Australia - Quarantine Day One #noRona
Updated: Jul 29
Day 1 (technically zero) - Saturday, May 29th 2021
In the early hours, the sun rose on the Australian coastline. For the first time in 11months, I have returned to my homeland. A home that has never been more distanced and out of reach to myself and the other Aussies stranded overseas. Nevertheless, I am fortunate to have got on the flight last night and here I am. Now what to expect on arrival?
As we taxied in, the Crew's PA says that once the seatbelt sign is off we can get up and grab our personal items but it's probably better to stay seated and wait it out. Aircraft are processed individually. It appeared that our flight was the third in line with an Emirates arrival being first and as we landed I saw a Qatar Airways flight taxi past the runway.
We arrive at the gate and a PA from the Australian Government is played about the Quarantine requirements, to wear masks, social distance in the terminal and not doing so will result in penalties. It is also added that we will be subjected to Health Screening in the airport. About 20mins later we are given the all-clear to leave the aircraft.
The airport is a ghost down. Long gone are the tourist adverts welcoming you to Australia and what there is to see and do. Instead, it's ads about companies that hire out exercise equipment for your hotel quarantine and signs telling you to adhere to COVID rules.
The first health station is a nurse, kitted out in basically a hazmat suit who is handing out new masks. She is chipper and proclaims "Welcome Home" and hands out these masks telling us that regardless of whatever mask we had that we must wear this one and disposed of current ones in the hazmat bins up the hallway.
With a new mask in toe, we get our temperature checked by similarly attired nurses. If you clear that checkpoint you go to the next one. Where you are quizzed about your health. I couldn't help but think: why are these guys not kitted out like those other nurses? It made no sense. Then again nothing about this or any COVID rule (especially Australia) has any logic. As the questions roll of the tongue by the nurse who has done this more times than he'd probably like to admit. Questions were very stock standard:
Do you have any of the following symptoms such as . . . ?
Are you on any prescription medications and have enough supply for two weeks?
Do you understand and accept that you are subjected to a 14 Day Quarantine?
Do you have friends or family here in Sydney?
Do you have any items such as a CPAP machine, humidifier, fans or nebulisers? (this question confirmed to me the situation that Melbourne's 'Nebuliser Man' had regaled and I could see he was telling the truth of his situation but it was still missed later on)
You will have all meals provided but you are free to receive deliveries if you aren't happy with the meals, but that is at your own cost. Do you understand?
There were a few more questions that I can't recall in my Jetlagged state. Cut me some slack! Although I slept for nine hours on the flight, I had been going since 3 am US Central time and worked ten hours before flying to Australia. But one question, or lack of, really struck me. I was never asked:
"Have you received a vaccination and if so which one?"
A lack of that question confirmed to me Australia's attitude towards the world as too the tests and jab. The premise of how you tested negative to come here but they don't trust it so you have to quarantine. You need to get vaccinated so they can get back to normal, but they don't trust those vaccinated so you have to quarantine anyway.
After clearing medical, the next stop was Customs. The booths I found quite hilarious. They all had the plexiglass blocking the front so you had to hand your passport through a slot on the side. I don't know what the issue was but my Passport flagged something. So I had to go to the supervisor's desk. The reason I found the Customs Plexiglass hilarious is because there was nothing behind the booth. So when I had to walk around the booth to the Supervisor's desk couldn't I have infected that officer? COVID rules, as I say, have never made sense. Anyway, it seems it was an IT issue with the booth's scanner as the Supervisor checked my Passport with the light and gave it back saying "Welcome Home" the second time I'd heard such an "Open Arms" approach to us returnees. After collecting my luggage it's the Immigration side of things. Pretty much all of the Quarantine staff (you know the agricultural ones) seemed very bored. Their claims to fame on the show 'Border Security' dealing with Asian tourists are a distant memory to them now.
Before leaving the terminal, I see a seating area where all the aircrews are seated. Here they are getting a PCR test before leaving the airport and going to their crew hotel (which is also one of the Hotel Quarantine properties). Dubai has a similar process for all incoming passengers. They get a test on arrival, then isolate at home until the result of the test. If it's negative then you are free to go, with no quarantine period. Australia why couldn't you implement this?
So now we wait in a holding area where the ADF (Australian Defence Force) and Federal Police are waiting. They were all friendly and handed out the paperwork we would have to fill out between the airport and priso . . . sorry, hotel. As a bus rolls up we follow the "socially distanced" lines and approach the bus. ADF staff all chipper tell us "just leave your bags here and we'll load them for you, welcome home". We get on the bus and wait. In reality from arrival to the bus took one hour, that's not too bad and would probably be a normal timeframe in pre-COVID times. About five minutes after boarding the bus we get given a "showbag" by a member of the ADF. A showbag filled with surgical masks.
At the 80 minute mark since arrival, the bus begins its departure from the airport. We go about 10 metres and the bus suddenly stops. I look outside and see a Highway Patrol Police vehicle has basically pulled up in front of the bus preventing its movement. The car pulled up in front of the bus as if they had to stop it at all costs. After about a minute the police car drove off and we proceeded. The bus ride to the hotel is somewhat surreal. As you whizz through the streets of Sydney on an early Saturday morning seeing golfers play eighteen (perhaps nineteen?) holes, people walking the streets with their coffees you can't help but feel that you are actually going to prison. You get a glimmer of life going on, a life that you are will be starved of for some time.
Before those reading this go "you're going to a hotel" I am only stating that you get that same feeling that a prisoner probably feels on their bus ride to the big house. I was seated towards the back of the bus and what certainly confirmed that feeling was when we arrived in downtown Sydney at what was the first stop. That same Highway Patrol vehicle from the airport had parked itself at the five o'clock position of the bus. That's right, we were under a police escort until we'd be in the hotel. Are we that much of a threat? To NSW's credit, they do take this seriously. I'd be keen to know how Victoria or other States go with this.
As I say we arrive at the first stop, many of us had no idea it wasn't a non-stop service. But the first stop was a Serviced Apartment complex. At this point, I'm thinking, as I'm sure many others were, jackpot! Serviced Apartment would mean, a balcony (or at least the ability to open a window), a kitchen and laundry. For myself, it would be just like the last time I quarantined for two weeks in my apartment.
A Police Sergeant boards the bus and reads the riot act to us. It's almost like one of those Military films "Right this is Squadron 123, I'm going to be in charge of you" However, the riot act was, well, there's no other way of describing the brief. It's like getting read your rights after an arrest. You are informed of the Ministerial Act that is responsible for your quarantine. "Under the NSW Emergency Health act enacted by the Health Minister you are subjected to a 14-day quarantine. If you refuse then the penalties of breaching the act or rules of your stay is subject to the following. Do you understand?" After the five minute reading of "our rights", the Sergeant announces that only four people will be getting off here. However, what I found disturbing was when she said "we have some clean people checking out, once they're cleared we'll offload you". The world "clean?" I felt was very missed time. It's their terminology but it put us in our place. We are "dirty" and seen as "a threat to the community"
Those who got offloaded here were a father and daughter and a mother and her daughter. We then go off to the next place. It was with disappointment I think for the remaining ten of us on the bus. This was an old hotel, probably with no windows or balconies. This Hotel's Police Sergeant boards the bus and re-read the same spiel we got earlier. One person realised where we were and asked "are there open windows here?" when the Sergeant hesitated and said "speak with the hotel staff" it was clear that we were all going to get screwed. He then added that the lobby was being "disinfected" following the previous arrivals. After another ten minutes of waiting, in groups of three, we get off the bus. The ADF had offloaded all bags and placed them in the lobby.
The police conduct the check-in process. Behind them was the hotel staff and, this is melodramatic I get it, but he seemed to be enjoying his power. As if he was an SS Officer, yes I get it, there's no comparison to that atrocity but like those guys, he enjoyed the power he had over arrivals. The police would enter your details into their system and he would place a sheet of paper next to the officer that was your room number. He then asked if you had any food allergies and within ten minutes of getting to your room you will be given breakfast. He then asked "any questions?" I asked "do any of the rooms have the ability to open a window" abruptly he replies "no not here". So I ask "what about a balcony?" and again abruptly goes "no we don't have them. It's two weeks you'll get over it!"
Right there in this guy, combined with the previous Police Sergeant I saw the epitome of everything I had feared of my fellow countrymen when it comes to their attitude towards those who are coming from outside "Fortress Australia." We are seen as the enemy to their way of life. A colleague who has done Hotel Quarantine four times in the last year with all stays at the same Hotel knew this guy well when I told him the story. He agreed, he was loving the power he had over his fellow human beings.
An ADF member then escorts me to the elevator and like a valet carries my suitcase. He holds the "key" to the elevator and my room. I got the sense that he knew my frustrations. My room would be perfect for an overnight or two, there's nothing wrong with the Hotel Chain that I was staying in.
But the property is very dated, more importantly, the ventilation and the moldy smell that old hotels have is what shocked me most, considering this was a COVID Hotel. You'd think the cleaning regiment would be extremely stringent. But the room was dusty and suggests that the cleaning process was probably no different from a standard housekeeping regiment.
A part of me thought, is this proof of a country that still hasn't learnt to live with a virus? I mean I work on aeroplanes and during a turn at a port, the aircraft gets nuked with a disinfectant. Yet here is a hotel that is holding us "dirty people" who are assumed to be riddled with the new Ebola, but basic cleaning isn't done? I can't confirm it obviously, but later that day I read another report of someone who had completed Quarantine at the same hotel.
"The air conditioning unit in my room had no fresh air provision, I looked into the ceiling and saw no ductwork connected. I took out the filter and it was caked with dirt. The condition of my room was unsanitary with urine on the toilet. I had to clean the toilet and the air filter myself."
My colleague tells me to not give up on seeking a balcony because the property had them. He advised me to call the nursing team. I do, however, it is clear that they were sympathetic but were tired of hearing this complaint. The response was "rooms with balconies or windows are in high demand at all properties" if it's in high demand, there's a reason for that wouldn't you say? She advises me that I will have to speak with the police to get a room change and to "not get your hopes up" so I call the reception and ask to speak to the Police Team once all the morning arrivals were completed. I call and get the same careless staff member. To his credit, he advises that he will get the Sergeant to call me back, but five hours pass and I get nothing besides calls from the hotel saying "they're busy and will get back to you" which they never did. By this point, though it's early afternoon and the jetlag is kicking in, all I want to do is have a shower and curl up in front of the TV. If this was an avoidance technique by the police to wear me down, congratulations. But I did receive a care package from the hotel. It's a bottle of Red which went down nicely whilst I finally had the chance to watch the footy game that was played whilst I was somewhere over the Pacific. Tough being in radio silence on the scores for such a long period of time, thank god Sydney isn't a Footy town.
That evening I get a call from the nursing staff again. This call is purely in regards to my health concerns, prescriptions etc. Effectively a triage call. I discuss my concerns with them in regards to two weeks in a room with no access to fresh air. I know my body, I know my health. When you work. who are we kidding with the commute and all, live, in a pressurised tube for at least 50% of your week. You know the benefits of fresh air. Even in a cold Northern Hemisphere winter, you'd probably see my balcony door open whilst I'm rugged up on the couch in a blanket just so I can have fresh air. Technically I'm also still an asthmatic having got the medications that are rarely ever used. I push the fact that the room is dusty, the poor air conditioning system that both physically and mentally I won't survive two weeks in this room and that the Police were still yet to return my call.
The response was simply, do you wish to speak to our mental health team? I replied, what are they going to do?
I'd imagine it would only be to discuss tactics to mediate or tactics to keep your mind focused. Well, I planned on doing that anyway. I had my travelling Yoga mat and a heap of study material for my check rides at the end of June I had things to keep my mind occupied and provide escapism. All I wanted was a window to open. But it was clear that NSW Health had no power here and I got the impression they were powerless to say to the Police "approve this request to move to another room due to x, y, z"
After the call and in my exhausted state to stay awake until bedtime on Australian time my thoughts really only turn to how I could crack or break the window over the next couple of days. This is is going to be a long fortnight.