At present there are 40.
At 04:00am on the 23rd of April there will be 41.
UK ‘Red List’ countries – nations worldwide viewed as a risk of COVID-19 importation due to surges and/or strains, making passengers arriving into the UK a domestic threat. https://www.gov.uk/guidance/transport-measures-to-protect-the-uk-from-variant-strains-of-covid-19
Sadly it is our enduring global reality. Over 400 days into COVID-19 still we are seeing cases increasing and new strains mutating all while vaccines are being injected.
It’s not the same everywhere – some places are finding solutions to stopping the spread, flattening the curve, controlling contact. The over-reactions are understandable. Economic and social paralysis cannot continue indefinitely.
Hence the Red List.
And the need official hotel quarantine for people arriving into the country from a Red List country, a regulation imposed in the UK mid-February 2021, already active in other nations across the world.
To be a traveller forced to face hotel quarantine is quite something – and something personally experienced earlier this month when travelling back to the UK from South Africa despite:
- PCR test: negative
- Test for Antibodies: positive (as had COVID-19 end of 2020)
- Household: single person
Travelling during COVID-times is challenging enough: lack of fresh air and smiles due to masks, excessive layers of protective packaging on items, eats and other usually tactile aspects of the airline and airport experience. Readying for a 10-day, government enforced, hotel quarantine introduces a further layer of desensitisation to an industry that has always been highly emotive, highly immersive.
The technicalities are straightforward enough, that is of course only once you land and establish to which hotel you are assigned and how the days ahead will unfold. Up until then the feeling entering into it all is a concerning one as there is little advance detail, especially around exactly where you will be spending your 240 hours on the inside.
The cost of quarantine is significant, and unavoidable:
- 10 full days (starting from the first sleep), and
- GB £1750,
- a room on one’s own (if a solo traveller),
- three meals a day, and
- a small degree of laundry servicing.
On landing at the airport (LHR in this case), one is immediately ushered into Immigration lines that set your pace and feeling of welcome, effectively those free to move as arriving from Green List countries (no quarantine or self-isolation required) or Yellow List countries (self-isolation required) redirected according to usual entry permit classifications (UK, EU, etc.) separated from those feared as arriving from Red List countries requiring hotel quarantine, regardless of entry permit classification.
Red List? Follow the red line.
The red line leads you from one escort to another – yellow vests – straight from passport control through baggage, into waiting areas, into a holding area, onto a coach across several hotels depending on where you’ve been allocated to quarantine. At the hotel entry is through a side entrance, into a briefing room, into a process of completion of forms: consent to stay, menu choices for the next 10 days, indication of timings of PCR tests (days 2 and 8), and then escorted to your room for the next 10 days.
Just keep following the yellow vests. Wait until they make contact.
The hotel experience is stripped away. The opportunity to make a guest feel welcome and enjoy the hotel is all stripped away. Rapidly, easily, it can feel like a human experiment. Pavlov’s dog suddenly makes sense. Three times a day you hear a knock on the door. Meal time. When the door is opened an elevated tray awaits along with, across the hallway, a warden in PPE…and yellow vest. On the tray is a brown paper bag within which are two to three little brown boxes. The little boxes containing the meal you have requested during on the menu sheets on arrival. Meal by meal, knock after knock, day after day, they arrive. Delivered by a yellow vest.
There’s no other human contact.
The hotel room itself is a bedroom. It is a bedroom in a branded hotel. The branding, however, is stripped away. There is no leaving the room unless escorted, and brief: 15 minutes maximum, whether it’s to walk around the parking lot of the hotel to get some exercise or for those who are smokers, to get a nicotine fix. Leaving the room is with a warden. A yellow vest. In the hallways stand monitors, in yellow vests.
The feeling? Especially in the first two days when the yellow vest system of quarantine controls become the routine? Punitive. Yet you have done nothing wrong. You are just there, behind the door, because you have to be, because you flew in from a Red List country.
It is easy for one to look at it and think that it is unnecessarily harsh. It is a psychological adjustment feeling as if people are looking at you as if you are contaminated. As if you are a combustible. As if you are dangerous.
But it’s not personal. It’s a pandemic, and this pandemic needs to be respected. Governments are doing all they can to contain the pandemic, to contain the spread. The loss of lives, the loss of livelihoods and the pressure on medical systems. One cannot fault extreme caution.
And then slowly, slowly, through the 10 days, you find these little glimmers of light,:
- morning light that breaks through as the sun rises, stretching across the room to create a golden glow,
- the light that comes from a cheerful yellow vested warden delivering a brown bag of breakfast with a smile and wish for a good day,
- the lightness of heart that is felt when care packages of fresh flowers, fresh fruit, freshly baked gingerbread biscuits and other fresh thoughts arrive from loved ones hoping to lighten the mood,
- the lightening of workloads and to-do lists as wifi lines and long days make for a period of high productivity,
- the light touch of hotel staff calling to simply check in every 48 hours, making sure you’re okay, letting you know that they are there for those guests struggling being alone, inside, ongoing.
Interestingly, having spoken to the hotel staff the check-in calls are not part of the government protocols and their requirements to be a COVID-19 quarantine hotel in the proximity of an airport. It is just the hotel being humane, simply reaching out to make sure that you’re fine. During Passover they make sure that the menus have no bread. As Ramadan nears they check with the guests to make sure that the meals are being provided at the time of breaking the fast. Little sparks of humanity, of identity, through what initially felt like quite a dehumanising, identity-neutralising process.
COVID-19 has challenged the lives and lifestyles of everyone, everywhere, in different ways. This is just another of those ways. Importantly, no one is happy about the situation – not the government, not the hotel company, not the staff following protocols strictly, not the ‘guest’
It is not ideal. But it is also not hardship. It is just inconvenient. A test of patience. A whisper of humility. First World Problems.
The perspective? Vividly clear, especially in these time of immense loss. For millions upon millions around the developing and developed world, the circumstances equate to luxury: one is falling asleep in a clean bed, in a warm room with hot and cold running water, full plumbing, receiving three meals a day served with care. For 10 days.
The COVID-19 quarantine hotel experience is a unique one because, in addition to having everything stripped away, one is suddenly aware very quickly of all that they actually have. And importantly, the blessing of having a place to go home to once you have left the hotel.
All of this is about being able to work together to ensure that COVID-19 does not bring us all down. None of these regulations, none of these restrictions, none of these requirements and enforcements are what we wish for.
What we all wish for is safety.
What we all wish for is health.
What we all wish for is to be able to hug loved ones, to see the smiles of stranger.
In the short term, as we endure these discomforts and these inconveniences, these are small prices we need to pay for the long-term investment of making sure that once again, we can come together safely, securely, confidently. Whatever challenges we continue to face, whatever each day may bring, we are getting one day closer to all being released from this time.
And if there is one wish one can make that makes all the difference in our COVID-19 world: wish for a window that faces the sunrise.
Copyright: ANITA MENDIRATTA 2021