A British couple who spent two weeks in quarantine at an Australian hotel have shared their experience as the Government introduced similar measures for travellers returning to the UK from high risk countries.
Under a new scheme unveiled today, passengers arriving from more than 20 ‘red list’ countries will have to isolate for 10 days in hotels near airports and pay around £1,500 for the privilege.
Similar quarantine schemes are already in place in countries including Australia, Singapore and Norway.
Speaking to FEMAIL, British travel bloggers Alex and James Lock told how they spent 14 days in a 20sq m room at the Intercontinental Hotel in Sydney, where hotel quarantine costs $4000 AUD, or £2,200, for two adults staying together.
The couple, who have lived in Australia for six years, were escorted to the hotel from the airport and had no choice over where they would be staying, or the type of room – they didn’t even have a window that opened.
Quarantine diary: Travel bloggers Alex and James, who are originally from the UK but are currently in Australia, spent 14 days in a 20sq m room at the Intercontinental in Sydney last month after being whisked to the hotel on arrival. Pictured, Alex working in the hotel room
Lunch: An example of the type of lunch that was delivered to Alex and James’s room. The couple did not have a choice in their meals but the offering did change every day
Tested: On day two and day 10 of the quarantine, a nurse came to the hotel room to carry out nasal and throat swabs for a Covid-19 test. The tester stood outside the hotel room door in full PPE and reached in to take the samples. Pictured, James being tested in the hotel
Quarantined: Alex and James Lock told how they spent 14 days in a 20sq m room at the Intercontinental Hotel in Sydney, where hotel quarantine costs $4000 AUD, or £2,200, for two adults staying together. Pictured, the couple pose for a playful snap in their hotel room
What countries are on the quarantine red list?
- Cape Verde
- Democratic Republic of Congo
- French Guiana
- Portugal (including Madeira and the Azores)
- South Africa
Travellers returning to the UK will also not be given a say over their hotel or type of room.
Alex, 31, and James, 32, who boast more than 72,000 Instagram followers and 3,100 YouTube subscribers, told how they survived largely on basic, cold meal packs like sandwiches and salads that were dropped off outside their hotel room in cardboard containers.
This was supplemented by care packages delivered by friends to the hotel reception, which were then taken up to the room by a member of staff wearing a mask.
The couple were also allowed to order one meal a day from local restaurants using delivery apps like Deliveroo or UberEats.
The couple, who kept busy with YouTube exercises classes, work and Netflix, revealed how there was no room cleaning service so they were given fresh bedsheets after a week to change themselves.
They also had to hand wash their clothes in the bathtub and leave their rubbish tied up outside the room.
Covid-19 tests were administered twice during their stay – on day two and day 10 – and there was a daily phone call from a nurse who asked about symptoms and checked on their welfare.
Here, James and Alex share their day-in-the-life diary with FEMAIL…
Handwash only: Without the luxury of a laundry service, Alex and James had to hand wash their clothes in the bathtub
Walking through the door to the 20m sq hotel room, we were just happy to see a comfy bed. We had been travelling for over 25 hours, and then had a long wait between the airport and getting to the hotel.
We had no idea where we would be placed until we arrived outside the building. We tracked our location on Google Maps, since it was pitch black and no army or police personnel had told us where we were going.
The room was relatively spacious. We were lucky to have a desk, which meant we had a separate space other than just sitting on the bed, and with a little rearranging we could just make a space big enough at the end of the bed for some exercise.
We had two huge windows, but when we tried to open them realised they were sealed shut. Having no fresh air was very difficult. It was definitely one of the things we struggled most with across the 14 days. Some people and families lucked out with open windows, even balconies. But that is just the luck of the draw!
There was a TV with basic channels, a kettle and a coffee pod machine with four complimentary pods, any additional ones were at a charge of $1 each (50p). With jet lag kicking in quick, we went through them quickly!
There was a small fridge that had some standard mini bar food snacks, but everything in there was payable at usual hotel prices. There was zero cooking equipment, which was an immediate worry as we had heard the food wasn’t going to be great.
Our room was next to the main lift lobby where a single security guard sat for 24 hours of the day. We could occasionally hear murmurings outside at the lift where the security guards would change shifts. But there was always someone there, night and day.
Food is served: Cold meals were delivered in cartons left outside the hotel room three times a day. Breakfast was typically a selection of a mini packet of cereal, long-life milk, a mini yoghurt and a piece of fruit. Lunches were something like a salad, sandwich or cold pasta
Staying active: The couple tried to do a 30-minute YouTube HIIT workout every day. Pictured, Alex and James working out in the hotel in a grab taken from their YouTube vlog
Breakfast was delivered in a paper carton every day at 8am. We were not allowed into the corridor so it was a case of putting on a mask and leaning outside to pick it up off the ground.
DAILY HEALTH CHECKS FROM A NURSE AND WEEKLY COVID TESTS
Once a day we received a call from a nurse asking how we were feeling and if we had any Covid symptoms. On days two and 10 the nurse came to the hotel room to carry out nasal and throat swabs for a Covid-19 test.
The tester stood outside the hotel room door in full PPE and reached in to take the samples from us. Not going to sugarcoat it, the test is rather uncomfortable.
There was a mental health nurse on call at any time of day that you could speak to if you were struggling. We felt that any member of staff we spoke to were kind, considerate and helpful throughout the quarantine period.
Most mornings we were given a selection of a mini packet of cereal, long-life milk, a mini yoghurt and a piece of fruit. There was no metal cutlery so we had to try cut through our fruit with very blunt plastic knives.
To keep ourselves active we tried to do a 30-minute YouTube HIIT workout every day.
While eating our breakfast, we responded to any emails we had received overnight and settled down to a few hours work before lunch, which was again delivered in a carton in the corridor.
Like breakfast, we didn’t have a choice in food selection. What was delivered wasn’t horrendous and changed every day. It was usually made up of a salad, sandwich, or cold pasta with a couple of hidden treats on the side – like a slice of cheese.
Since we didn’t have the luxury of a washer or a dryer, the hotel recommended we wash our clothes in the bathtub and use the washing line provided.
After travelling for two weeks through Italy before flying to Australia, we had a lot to get through. It was like the olden days!
We continued working until the late afternoon, unless we wanted to take a break to watch something on Netflix on the laptop or to have a nap (jet lag made us tired).
We then usually spent time on the phone to our family and friends, updating them on life in quarantine.
Being able to keep in touch with friends and family over FaceTime and WhatsApp was good for our mental health. We were also extremely lucky to have each other.
The hotel also gave us brain teasers and colouring pencils to lift spirits, which we thought were nice touches.
Relaxing: James and Alex watch Netflix on the laptop at the end of another day in quarantine
Delivery! The couple were allowed to order in one meal a day using apps like UberEats
Dinner was dropped off at around 5-6pm. Again, this was delivered in a carton and tended to be very basic.
However we were allowed to order one takeaway meal every day, using food apps like Deliveroo and UberEasts.
The food was dropped off downstairs at the hotel and brought up to our room and left outside in the corridor. We did this most days.
As the day drew to a close we would enjoy a glass of wine – or two – before watching a film on Netflix and going to sleep, knowing we would have to do it all again the next day.
Some people have compared quarantine to prison life. In prison you get fresh air and are sometimes able to choose your meals. We didn’t have either.
But then again you are in a hotel room with lots of other comforts.
At the end of the day you know what you’re signing up to – at least to a point – and you know there is that silver lining when you are released.
If anything it gives you a new sense of appreciation for freedom, fresh air, family and friends!
We also think and agree that quarantine really has made the difference with containing the virus within Australia and we feel it is totally necessary.
Who will be forced to quarantine and can I upgrade my hotel room? We answer the vital questions on the Government’s new Australia-style isolation for travellers
Who will be forced to quarantine in hotels?
As a first step, British travellers returning from high-risk countries where new strains of the virus have been detected, such as Brazil and South Africa, will be forced to isolate for ten days in airport hotels.
Foreign nationals are already banned from entering the UK from these places. The Government is looking at widening the hotel quarantine requirement to all arrivals at airports and ports from everywhere around the world, but wants to pilot the process with a smaller group of people first.
Boris Johnson yesterday gathered ministers to sign off on the plans with a decision expected today.
What will happen on arrival?
Travellers who face enforced quarantine will be taken by bus to a hotel where they will have to remain for ten days.
Officials have begun talks with hotel groups about block-booking rooms that can be used for isolating.
In Australia, people are required to stay in their room the entire time with security guards patrolling the corridors. Hotel staff are forbidden from cleaning the rooms during a person’s stay.
Can you upgrade your hotel?
Travellers will not get a choice of hotel. In Australia, people do not know in advance where they will be staying and are warned there is no guarantee of access to a balcony or open window.
What are you supposed to do all day?
In Australia, exercise outside is not allowed so guests are encouraged to do stretches or yoga in their room.
A guide given to travellers to help prepare for hotel isolation suggests planning different activities to break up the day. Examples given include getting in contact with different friends and family, learning a foreign language on a mobile phone app, trying out a new hobby such as knitting and calligraphy, and catching up on ‘life admin’.
The advice recommends planning ‘rewards’ to look forward to such as a phone call with a loved one or the delivery of a treat. People sharing rooms with partners and family members are encouraged to set ground rules for the stays such as scheduling a time each day when everyone does a ‘quiet’ activity to help avoid disagreements.
Last summer an outbreak of coronavirus in Melbourne was blamed on security guards having sex with guests at one of the quarantine hotels.
Who pays the hotel bill?
The Government will arrange transport for travellers to their accommodation, but they will have to cover the cost of their hotel room, estimated to be about £1,500. The cost of 14 days in a quarantine hotel is £1,692 for an adult in Australia, £1,630 in New Zealand and £642 in Thailand.