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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)

  • Olly says:

    Why is a 24 hour turnaround covid test at an airport followed by a day’s isolation okay when Australia require 14 days locked up? Who is correct?

    • The Savage Squirrel says:

      Depends how stringent you want to be and what you are trying to achieve. Tests are not 100% accurate – so if you want to prevent transmission into your country (which might make sense if you have zero community spread like NZ or WA) then option 2. If you merely want to reduce risk, rather than eliminate inward transmission then option 1 will do the job.

  • Anna says:

    A really interesting read – I think if the same model was even suggested in the UK people would be screaming about a police state and taking to the streets for (non-socially distanced) protests. The long term economic effects remain to be seen. I have friends who realised their dream of moving to NZ and starting a business about 15 years ago. They’ve been forced to sell their home and and are now trying to get back to the UK as the shutdown has wiped out their business and they can no longer afford the NZ cost of living, and start over.

    • Ken says:

      The shutdown in NZ finished in July and so successful are the controls that they had close to 50k people at a Rugby match.
      A couple of dozen deaths and all the controls have had massive public support- because it has worked.
      Very different in the UK where everything has been simply half arsed.
      Got it largely under control in London, but not in many other urban areas, so let’s get back to the pub for ‘super Saturday’

      • Anna says:

        Not arguing with any of this, but clearly it’s not had a good outcome for everyone.

    • Paul says:

      Yes now perhaps but it would have worked March April time but for our lunatic herd immunity strategy followed by no strategy at all

  • Ian denholm says:

    There is no option to apply for compassionate exemption if you are an Australian returning . Wife had stroke in uk had approval to travel to uk to look after her. Now able to travel but want exemption to isolate at home in sydney

  • Scott says:

    The writer is welcome to their good fortune, but readers should not assume this is representative, or that the experience resembles spending 14 days in any sort of conventional hotel environment.

    As others have noted most hotels do not have an open window, much less a balcony.
    Although at least at my hotel you certainly could have a room with a balcony – if you were prepared to pay an extra $2,100 (for $5,100 all-up).

  • The real John says:

    Recently some people were flown to Darwin where they can quarantine in a disused workers’ camp which is basically like a caravan park (but with fixed cabins). It had been used for people entering NT from other parts of Australia (and if they came from overseas, it was basically a double quarantine of 28 days). You can walk around outside and more or less mingle with others, though obviously you should not get too close to them.

    The camps could be divided into 14 separate areas (or use 14 different camps) to rotate between each day of arriving passengers. Maybe they are doing it like this already.

    Honestly they should have just done this sort of thing from the start, commandeer some holiday parks, transfer all incoming passengers to grounded QF planes at every international airport and take them to these sorts of facilities.

    • Harry T says:

      Having lived and worked in Darwin, I can tell you the people there are very pragmatic and practical.

  • Josh says:

    Was this provided for free by the Australian government? I guess so, otherwise the reader would have said how much it cost?

    • Ken says:

      Nope – unless it was 3 months ago.
      $3k per adult in Sydney (it differs by state).

    • Louie says:

      Almost certainly yes. Depends when you booked your flights. The writer of the article said he booked before caps which were introduced. As the caps were introduced at roughly the same time as fees were introduced for quarantining in mid-July, it’s highly unlikely he had to pay.

      • guesswho2000 says:

        Correct, even when states introduced fees, those who booked prior and could prove it were exempt. It’s around $3k now, varies by state and some don’t charge per person (smaller supplement for each additional person). Paying for the food is mandatory, whether you want it or not.

  • guesswho2000 says:

    This is one of the better experiences I’ve read. There’s a FB group showcasing the quarantine food experiences of others (of course that’ll be swayed towards the bad), and the quality of hotel can be wildly variable.

    I got back to Melbourne during the window where they allowed us to self-isolate at home, which at the time was mind numbing but I’d do that again in a heartbeat over hotel quarantine (and would elect to do it if they’d let us travel anywhere – literally anywhere, being Victorian we can go nowhere).

  • MT says:

    Wow great apartment, I had a tiny hotel room for 2, no balcony and no openable windows. No room key either so we couldn’t leave the room. Have to say we had a similar experience though in that everyone was amazing and we got regular calls from the Red Cross to check we were still sane.

    We learned that when the door bell rings it means there’s food waiting on the door step, by the end it was like Pavlov’s Dog – we would start salivating just on hearing the door bell lol.