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Reader story: what’s it like doing two weeks enforced hotel quarantine in Australia?

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This week a long-standing HfP reader got in touch to share his family’s fascinating experience of flying to Australia and subsequently spending two weeks in quarantine.

Being effectively locked into an aparthotel for two weeks is, clearly, not something that most people will ever experience and we thought it would make an interesting article. Let’s jump in:

“With a toddler and a pregnant wife in tow, we decided to move to Melbourne for my (Australian) wife’s upcoming maternity leave to avoid a new baby arriving in the height of the British winter during COVID. 

For those not aware, Australia is one of the strictest countries when it comes to dealing with coronavirus.  Entry is currently permitted to citizens, permanent residents and immediate family members and there is a controversial cap of 4,000 people per week entering the country

This 4,000 seats per week figure is divided amongst various cities. Getting a seat can be a challenge with no new tickets available for sale until mid-December. 

At present, Sydney is taking in 400 people a day, meaning planes are flying with between 30 and 50 passengers depending on the number of arrivals.

When we booked the caps weren’t in place, and we originally booked to fly from London to Melbourne, taking advantage of Qatar’s ‘book with confidence’ policy. This let us pay for flights from a UK airport to the cheapest Asian destination we could find and then re-route using Qatar’s exceptionally generous re-routing policy.

Booking our flights this way saw us paying around 1/3rd of the standard business class fare to Melbourne – but this was something that later gave us cause for concern.

When Australia introduced passenger caps in mid July it also closed Melbourne Airport, so we had to rebook to Sydney in order to enter the country.

A month or so before departure, we started reading about people being bumped from flights at the last minute due to the caps. At this point I started checking the seat maps for our flight on ExpertFlyer on a near daily basis. 

The seat map in business barely changed, but economy at one point went from around 40 seats to 12. 

This extra layer of nervousness saw us arrive earlier than normal at Heathrow on the day of departure, where everything was more or less as normal for us.  As a British passport holder with a partner visa for Australia, Qatar Airways did some extra checks on my passport but other than that, it was a normal check-in, albeit with 130kg of baggage!

With Qatar Airways departing from Terminal 5, one of the unexpected perks of being a business class passenger was being invited to the BA Galleries First lounge rather than the expected Galleries Club, where we enjoyed a nice breakfast delivered to our seats.

The flight

There were eight passengers in total in Business Class on our flight to Doha. My son and I enjoyed the centre Q-Suite which was ideal for travelling with a toddler due to being able to have him very close by. 

He quickly worked out how to slide the door to the suite open, to join his Mummy who had deliberately been booked in a rear-facing window seat to rest and enjoy some peace and quiet. 

The service on Qatar Airways (and the centre seats) put British Airways First Class to shame. We enjoyed a proper menu with hot food to eat when we wanted.

Hamad Airport in Doha was quiet and the vast lounge seemed to have almost as many staff keen to greet and direct us as customers.  There was more than enough space for a two year old to run and explore without causing too much disturbance.  

Close to arrival in Sydney on the second flight, the crew optimistically gave out fast-track immigration cards alongside the Australia custom forms – not much use when you have 30 passengers on a Boeing 777-300.

Arriving in Sydney

Arriving in Sydney it was clear that things have changed. 

Firstly, Australian health officials came on board to hand out paperwork outlining the quarantine process.  We were then screened by nurses, had our temperatures taken and questioned on any potential COVID symptoms. We then went through immigration and collected our bags.

After clearing customs, we were directed to another part of the baggage hall where two border force officials were waiting with a list of all passengers.

Ahead of us we saw individual chairs for people to wait but after ticking us off the list, we were asked to go straight outside to where three coaches were waiting. 

The officials manning the desk couldn’t have been nicer or more helpful, with one leaving the desk to help us with the second baggage trolley.  

We were escorted outside to find police and army officials and a couple of soldiers unloaded our bags onto the bus. We waited for all 30 passengers from our flight to make it through.  Passengers were split between two buses, with families on one and singles / couples on another. 

Given that we had a boisterous two year old with us, we did plenty of running up and down alongside the buses to wave to the police and army guarding each end of the parking area and looking at the police motorbikes waiting to escort our buses.

The journey to an unknown destination in the city began with a police motorbike following each bus. 

Some 30 minutes in, we pulled up at the Meriton Suites on Sussex Street, a serviced apartment hotel opened in the summer of 2019.  A policeman came onto the bus to explain the procedures and read out the rules of quarantine (executive summary – you don’t leave your apartment for two weeks). 

Two families were invited ahead of us to leave the bus and check-in and after that, we were called off the bus.  Check-in was handled by the hotel, after which there was a second check-in with the police, including presentation of boarding passes for contact tracing from the flight.

Walking into the hotel, the lobby had police, army and private security people there. We had to identify our baggage, all of which was put straight onto a cart to go to our room.

Once check-in was complete, we were handed a brown paper bag with that evening’s dinner and a soldier escorted us to our room. 

We were initially given a one-bed suite, and the cot supplied by the hotel was dumped in the middle of the living area as it was too big for the bedroom. 

For us, this was not how we could envisage spending two weeks with a two year old boy full of energy. We appealed to the hotel and police for a larger room.

The next morning, we were told that a two bed apartment was available, and we could move there with the caveat that we would have to pay a cleaning fee (around £130) for the apartment we had spent our first night in.  This was a no brainer for us and we were moved at lunchtime.

Our quarantine since has been spent in a two bed apartment on the 31st floor which was nearly as big as the London flat we’d left. It has a balcony, full kitchen, washing machine, two bathrooms and (most importantly) some space! 

Being high up, feeling removed from the world, made the quarantine experience psychologically easier than being on say the second or third floor. You feel like an observer rather than a participant in the world.

How to stay sane during a 14 day quarantine….with a toddler!

How do you pass time when you’ve got a toddler to keep busy?  We brought a suitcase of toys, stickers, a tricycle and plenty of books and (against our preference for entertainment) the iPad. 

We’ve been creative, spending time looking at helicopters in the distance; boats in Darling harbour; trams below us; cranes on the buildings and adjusting to a slower pace. 

The laundry bucket has been turned into bath / paddling pool on the balcony and plenty of water play has helped pass time.  On top of that, lots of music has been played on the Bluetooth speaker in the living room with dancing and singing.  

Exercise was also important and every afternoon (post toddler nap time) we’d blast an upbeat playlist from Spotify, set the timer for 45 minutes and create a circuit around the apartment, out onto the balcony and back.  Cartons of UHT milk became 1kg weights for arm curls; star jumps were done on the balcony and my son and I did plenty of high-knees. 

We’d typically walk around 3.5km around the flat in 45 minutes and according to my Apple Watch, I’ve walked over 100km in 13 days around the apartment. 

Day two saw our first contact with humans since arrival with a COVID test to tickle your brain cells (it really was that far up the nose!) with a second test on day ten.  Between those days, we had zero contact with other humans save for a man abseiling down the building next to our balcony! 

We get daily phone calls from the nurses listing off about ten different potential symptoms of COVID – you can feel them asking the questions so keenly actually wanting someone to say they have a symptom so they have something to do!  My response once or twice has been ‘sorry to disappoint but we’re all fine thanks!’.

We’ve had plenty of Facetime with friends in London and Melbourne, grandparents in the UK and Australia and family members which has been a godsend in keeping us connected with the world outside.

Food wise, three meals a day of questionable quality and nutritional value are delivered to our door.  Thankfully, having a kitchen enabled us to quickly do an online supermarket shop and we made our own breakfasts and quite a few dinners plus the odd Uber Eats delivery. 

Lunches were the most tasty of the delivered meals and we probably enjoyed half of the delivered lunches:

We were very lucky to have a friend who is a chef in Sydney and she has dropped over a few special meals for us, making the whole experience that bit nicer.

Following our negative results from our day 10 COVID test, we were visited on day 13 for discharge procedures.  Alongside a nurse to take our temperatures, a doctor accompanied by someone from the army gave us wrist bands for the following day and paperwork declaring us to be COVID free having completed the quarantine period. 

There are two departure slots.  For those with flights arriving into Australia between midnight and noon, you can leave the hotel between 4am and 10am and for those with afternoon / evening flight arrivals, departure is between 4 and 6pm. 

At 4pm on the day of departure, someone from the hotel arrived with the baggage cart, our bags were loaded up and we flashed our wristbands at the security person on the floor and down in the lift we went!  After a quick check-out with the police at the hotel, showing our documentation, we were free to step out into a relatively normal Sydney.

It has not been the easiest two weeks, but the experience has certainly been far easier and less stressful than envisaged.  All the staff we’ve encountered from the hotel staff to doctors, nurses, police and army have been kind, understanding and helpful. 

Whilst our preference would of course not be to quarantine in this way, the benefits of a very low rate of infection in Australia (particularly when compared to the UK) make it worth it for all.”

Comments (77)

  • Crafty says:

    This is a really interesting article, thank you.

    I have been following an old friend’s two weeks on Instagram, she said the hardest thing by far for her was the lack of fresh air, inside a hotel room whose window could not be opened. I must admit this is a borderline phobia of mine so I too would really struggle with this! Glad to read you managed to cope and stay sane.

  • AJA says:

    This is really interesting. Also the others complaining that the UK could learn so much and do things differently, yes we could but the point is that, so far in the UK, we are being treated like adults and are expected to comply with much looser but more manageable processes.

    The trouble is we all seem to want to be spoonfed and told exactly what we can and cannot do so that we can then complain that we live in a nanny state, it doesn’t suit, or doesn’t work, or some politician has done their own thing breaking the rules so that means we can too, or we come up with excuses why the loose rules don’t apply to us.

    There’s yet another article on the BBC website with some people in Bradford blaming Eat Out to Help Out for the rise in infections. It annoys me as that and all of the above are just rubbish excuses.

    The virus is transmitted from person to person or person to surface and back again. We just need to take responsibility for our own actions and hygiene (wash your hands often and properly, wear your mask properly ie over your mouth and nose!, don’t touch surfaces and then tough your face, preferably touch common use areas such as lift buttons or handrails or door handles with a tissue), plus we need to observe social distancing. If we all do all of that we minimise the risk of transmission to others.

    But we are all too selfish and want to blame anyone else. Which is why Covid is still around and spreading.

    End of rant!

    As I said interesting article and well done Australia for doing what they’re doing but can you imagine the UK restricting entry to 4,000 foreigners a week and quarantining them like the Australians have? BA, Virgin and Easyjet would have made far more staff redundant. No one would have travelled anywhere. Complaining about the poor catering on BA vs Virgin or lack of destinations due to government arbitarily adding or removing countries to lists would be far from our minds.

    • LB says:

      +1. At last – someone who agreeds with me regarding taking responsibility for their own actions.

      • Lloyd says:

        Spot on. Unfortunately too many people seem to think that the rules do not apply to them, and they have no concept of how, or why, they should wear a mask.

    • Simon says:

      Excellent post.

    • Miss London says:

      Don’t Be too quick to congrats Australia on this. The entry cap isn’t for foreigners. includes all Australian citizens. There are thousands of Australians stranded around the world who cannot get back in the country and don’t have the right to live/work anywhere else as their visas expired during the 7+ months this has been going on. As an Australian myself, I’m ashamed of my home country. What government denies entry and support to its own citizens stranded around the world who are desperately trying to fly home (at their own expenses) but can’t because their flights keep getting cancelled because of the quota?

      • The Lord says:

        NZ too

      • AJA says:

        Sorry to hear that, hope you get home soon. I am not particularly impressed about what Australia is doing but saying well done if they think it’s working. My point is it wouldn’t work here in the UK and from your post it’s not working well in Australia either.

      • Ian says:

        Absolutely this. What sort of country doesn’t let IT’S OWN CITIZENS to fly home?!?

        Can you imagine if this was done in the UK? There would be riots.

        • The Lord says:

          and charging people for the privilege of being locked up. It is absurd

          • joe beenblogging says:

            Ummm, in terms of the poster, this was their decision to spend the time in Oz, instead of the Uk. One assumes they knew the cost in advance and had a rough idea of the procedure.

          • mvcvz says:

            No-one is being charged inappropriately as you appear to be suggesting and it is certainly not absurd.. Everyone flying to Australia is aware of the quarantine requirements in advance. It’s therefore down to them to decide if they are willing to accept this (and foot the bill). If not, they remain at liberty to stay home.

            IMHO it’s a far superior system than anything in place in the UK, where everything is always expected to be funded from the public purse (ie my taxes)

          • The real John says:

            Err… if home is Australia then you don’t really have a choice.

          • mvcvz says:

            Yes you do. Wait a while before going home.

    • Nathan says:

      +1 well said Sir/Madam

    • Brian says:

      “But we are all too selfish and want to blame anyone else. Which is why Covid is still around and spreading.”

      There seems to be an overwhelming narrative that covid is being spread because people are breaking the rules. This annoys me, its an unsubstantiated assertion. It could well be that the R rate is above 1 just simply with schools being open. It could be opening schools raises the R rate from 0.8 to 1.1 and non-compliance raises it to 1.11. The point is we simply don’t know, there is too much uncertainty in the numbers,

      There are publicised cases pf non-compliance (think student parties) but my suspicion is that compliance is 95%+. Very similar to the stockpiling and shortage story earlier in the year. In fact most people bought about 5% more each and emptied the shelves but nobody considered themselves a stockpiler.

      • AJA says:

        I am not saying I know for certain that people breaking the rules is spreading Covid any more than I am saying that keeping schools open is spreading it. But not observing social distancing and not following a proper hygiene routine isn’t going to help either.

        The advice to wear a mask, wash our hands often and socially distance is because it helps to minimise the risk of transmission, not because it completely solves the problem. Self isolation when you have the symptoms also definitely helps stopping the problem getting worse but doesn’t assume you haven’t already passed the virus on.

        The reality is that your suspicions are just that, you don’t have any evidence that compliance is indeed 95%+ any more than I have any evidence that not wearing a mask properly spreads the virus. It seems to me that we will never know for certain what raises the R rate above 1.

        But my observations are that since the virus is spread from person to person and from person to object back to person then it is clear that doing everything we can individually to stop transmission is going to help. We collectively need to do so but somehow we are individually too selfish to do so.

        The point of my post was that the Australian style quarantine would not work well in the UK so there is little point in imposing it upon us. We’ve been treated as adults and yet people are not happy. But if the UK government did the same as Australia then the consequences for the UK and wider travel industry would be much more dramatic than we’ve already seen.

      • Ken says:

        “Compliance 95+ %”

        This is simply delusional in most parts of the country.
        Struggle to see more than 25% compliance once alcohol in a social setting is involved.

        • Brian says:

          “This is simply delusional in most parts of the country.
          Struggle to see more than 25% compliance once alcohol in a social setting is involved.”

          The 5% you are witnessing is 3 million people… observation bias.

  • The Savage Squirrel says:

    Very interesting – thanks! We actually have a confirmed case of Covid in our house (and are not antisocial psychopaths so are isolating properly! – fortunately it only seems to affect squirrels very mildly) so can definitely relate to this – especially the challenges of children.
    Much like plane travel, normal efforts of parenting have to go out of the window a bit. 3 hour iPad/Roblox session … go for it!

    • AJA says:

      Sorry to read that but I am glad to hear Covid is only affecting you squirrels mildly. Hope you all recover and are soon released from isolation.

  • Aliks says:

    I heard that Australia is proposing to keep the borders closed until late 2021. This would be a bid sad for us, as we rebooked a cancelled 241 onto flights to Sydney in August/September.

    Anyone know any details about Australia’s lockdown plans next year?

    • Rhys says:

      I don’t think anyone, including Australian politicians, can accurately predict what will happen in 2021.

  • Michael Jennings says:

    I’m an Australian who lives in London (and has for a very long time). I normally go to Australia to see my family every couple of years. I was planning to go this year, but I hadn’t booked anything when the lockdown first came in, so it hasn’t happened. I haven’t the time, money nor desire to go through this process, so I am not going any time soon. I have no idea when, either. It’s weird.

    • Julian says:

      Whereas you would no doubt potentially have been quite prepared to do two weeks quarantine at one of the houses of your family members.

    • David says:

      I’m also an Aussie living in London, had a trip back planned for May this year that I obviously didn’t take but moved to April next year. The only thing that holds me back is the quarantine we have to pay for. We have a property that currently sits empty that we could isolate at for two weeks so paying a few thousand to isolate in a hotel with windows that can’t open is just ridiculous.

      I agree with needing to stay isolated to ensure no community transmission, just hoping by next year we can do self managed isolation with some monitoring, not getting my hopes up though!

      • Anna says:

        The Cayman Islands are operating a very similar system to Australia, but people are allowed to quarantine in their own homes (as long as there’s no-one else living there already) if they wear electronic ankle tags. Of course it may be much easier to police this on a small island with 50k people than in a country the size of Australia!

      • The real John says:

        Same here, I would even be prepared to pay a few hundred dollars for police or whatever to bring us to our property in an isolated vehicle. I have my Australian bank cards and SIMs for mobile data (to order food etc) with me in the UK.

        But the main issue is that I usually only go to Australia for 2 weeks at a time and not really worth spending 2 weeks in quarantine to have 2 weeks out and then leave again.

  • Julian says:

    The Australian and New Zealand models of putting people under House Arrest for two weeks strike me as utterly ridiculous in relation to the minimal risks that any individual traveller will have COVID-19

    Fitting people with Waterproof GPS Tracker bracelets that could not be removed and providing home food delivery to whatever location people were staying it is the most that should possibly have been necessary.

    • The Savage Squirrel says:

      It may be tiny, but if you are trying to prevent Covid entry to a covid-free zone then the risk you’re worried about is (risk of individual having Covid x numuber of individuals). Pre covid, Aus got 25,000 visitors per day. So even the tiniest individual risk will be multiplied to a virtual certainty under normal travel conditions.
      Of course whether community elimination and isolation from the rest of the world is the right approach is something we’ll only really know with 10 year hindsight, but, given the economic damage either way, would you rather be living in Perth or Liverpool right now?

  • Froggitt says:

    Contrast with the UK…..just walk out of the airport.

  • Tony says:

    Interesting experience
    Somewhat different to arriving in the UK as I did 6 weeks ago from Spain, where I live, to quarantine in our mobile home in the Scottish Borders.
    Which is right or wrong only history will show.