For months I dreaded the mandatory 14-day hotel quarantine that awaited me upon arrival in Sydney. As a returning Australian citizen who needed to get home in a hurry during a pandemic I mentally prepared myself for inedible meals, loneliness, invasive tests and grumpy staff. I’d read the online rants, I knew it would be horrid.
It turns out that things were completely different. After the airport round up with minimal fuss I was taken to the comfortable Sydney Hilton where I was well looked after by polite and understanding staff. The medical staff and police who ran the show were friendly and helpful. My 3 PCR tests were easy and my friends and family checked on me every day, I even got 2 fabulous care packages from them. I watched lots of films, read a few books and ate delicious food prepared by the Hilton’s kitchen from around the world: Brazil, France, Israel, Indonesia – all served with beautiful fresh Australian fruit. I was able to buy anything I needed online. Except for the lack of fresh air which made me feel nauseous at times it was almost like a holiday… but my compulsory staycation was ruined on the last day.
One of my kindly family members was set to pick me up from the Hilton upon my release from quarantine. I was not at all concerned, I hadn’t even thought about the risks: this was Australia’s 8th month of mandatory hotel quarantining and they had certainly made some mistakes. From filthy hotel rooms to overly affectionate security staff the Australian press had gone to town on the hotel quarantine capers of 2020. NSW Health had recognised the flaws in the system and vowed to improve. Human error exists everywhere, doesn’t it?
As I left my hotel room at 8.50 am on December 5th (the time that had been agreed upon with the police officer and doctor who had come to my hotel door the night before to issue my papers for release) I was quickly shooed back into my room by panicked hotel and security staff. They reopened my door – which locked behind me – and asked me to wait. The reason for the delay was that there were new arrivals checking in and our paths couldn’t cross in reception for safety reasons. This struck me as odd, surely they’d known of the new arrivals when they agreed to the departure time the previous day. they’d told me I was free to leave from 4am. I waited another hour, which was absolute torture after 14 day’s anticipation, and I called the front desk. The front desk staff of the hotel had told me to go outside my door and talk to the security guards as they had direct contact with the NSW Police Force Officers who were running the show.
I went out and I was, again shooed back in my room by a police officer who was asking why I thought I was allowed to open my door.
This was now 2 hours after I was due to leave and I was getting rather upset. I started ranting and raving about my situation: about how my family were waiting, how I needed to get out and this was the absolute bloody limit and I was ready to have meltdown in the corridor. The policeman fully understood. He was clearly used to dealing with overwrought Australian expats and told me to hang in there and he would sort it all out.
“I’ll be back in a jiffy,” he said in a reassuring fashion.
He came good, bless his polyester mask. I was out of there with my bags in 5 minutes. I headed down to queue with a bunch of angry Australians, an American and two Japanese men. The foreigners in our coterie felt less inclined to voice their despair. I felt sorry for the poor police officers who were clearly put upon and have, in my opinion, the world’s worst job. They didn’t sign up for this at all.
My dear family member and I were reunited – but it took me a moment to realise that she was waiting for me in a queue with the new quarantine internees fresh off the plane, as were the other families collecting their loved ones from quarantine.
There were no signs, no barriers, no masks. There were military police (we think) who eventually told her to move and to pick me up at the correct spot – 2 blocks away.
“But she has a trolley full of luggage!”
“Oh. Well… just wait for her here then?”
And is how my quarantine process was rendered completely useless, I feel like I’ve been taken for a ride by NSW Health. Each of us spend $3000 and 14 days of our lives to protect the community from disease. In my case this was a total waste of time and money. The sole aim of the New South Wales Public Health Order 2020 is to protect Australia from the Coronavius (COVID-19) spiralling out of control. The only item on the agenda is to keep new arrivals away from the public. This is the only thing they did not do. In my case they were putting my beloved family at risk, which means eventually the entire community.
In Australia the new COVID cases are entirely imported by overseas travellers and the government has managed to eradicate the disease only to have the community reinfected due to poor quarantine practices and public complacency. It’s easy to see how Sydney is now in lockdown. Merry Christmas, Australia. Stay vigilant, wear a mask, don’t trust the Australian government to protect you.
PS – my family member’s test was negative, we dodged the bullet for now