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
They are words of warning recognised the world over, a literary conversation well known. If only Caesar had listened – if only we had listened:
Caesar. Ha! who calls?
Casca. Bid every noise be still: peace yet again!
Caesar. Who is it in the press that calls on me? I hear a tongue, shriller than all the music, Cry ‘Caesar!’ Speak; Caesar is turn’d to hear.
Soothsayer. Beware the ides of March.
Caesar. What man is that?
Brutus. A soothsayer bids you beware the ides of March.
Caesar. Set him before me; let me see his face.
Cassius. Fellow, come from the throng; look upon Caesar.
Caesar. What say’st thou to me now? speak once again.
Soothsayer. Beware the ides of March.
Caesar. He is a dreamer; let us leave him: pass.
(Julius Caesar, Act 1 Scene 2 – William Shakespeare)
The first warnings came on December 31, 2019 when the WHO first reported the existence of a novel strain of Coronavirus, COVID-19 to be exact. Then came the next warning on January 30, 2020 when the WHO raised the volume of its warning, declaring the COVID-19 outbreak to be a global health emergency.
By March 11th classification was raised to ‘global pandemic’.
By the Ides of March, the world was shutting down – borders, skies, businesses, schools, centres of faith, our homes – we were told to close in, quickly, before this invisible curse now known as COVID-19 caught us out. Wave 1 had begun….
Now, one year on, echoes of those ominous warnings continue to be heard. March 11th, 2021 marked the end of a year that has been beyond anyone’s expectation and imaginations. Depending on where one was in the world, throughout March 2021, year one markings unfolded of lockdowns first imposed, the first time we got a sense that life as we once knew it was no more. March 23rd for we from the UK. By the final day in March 2021 the WHO’s freshly released report on the origins of COVID-19 is being rigorously reviewed and remarked upon.
In just one year this one virus has taken over 2.8 million lives, denied billions their basic liberties, and cost trillions in livelihoods. New strains are being discovered in tandem newly approved vaccine being rolled out. New waves are threatening. renewed strength is increasingly hard to find. In just one year one truth has emerged that everyone has had to face: there is no escaping the trauma of COVID-19, even if one escapes falling prey to the virus itself. Everyone has lost something, someone, somewhere. Everyone has suffered in some way. No one has been spared.
Unlike any crisis experienced in our generation, this pandemic has completely erased not just borders between nations, but so many lines we used to put in place in our individual lives:
- Office vs home,
- Day vs. night,
- Weekends vs weekdays,
- Business vs. pleasure,
- Professional vs. personal,
- On vs off.
Blur now exists where once there were lines, this blur an operating space that must be bravely navigated – destination unknown, duration unknown, all within a context of immense, intense trauma. Genuine trauma.
The trauma has been real. It has been prolonged. It has been profound. It has been personal. The blur has been accented by deep, undeniable, inescapable, and surprisingly, often very visible ache.
Tears have fallen uncontrollably.
Cracks have been revealed unexpectedly.
Fear has closed us in illogically.
Faith has been tested deeply.
Interestingly, this shared reality, this exposure, has afforded us the opportunity to turn trauma into a lifeline, forcing us all to come closer, to be more real, more human, more understanding and more compassionate with those around us. To encourage, without judgement or hesitation, others to reach out and grab hold.
Why? Simply this: the shared trauma we have all experienced has, while differing in individual situations, circumstances, characteristics and complexities, allowed us to care more – to care more honestly, more deeply and more transparently with those who truly provide us the focus, the purpose, the energy, and the hope we all need.
COVID-19 has been the most democratising challenge our world has ever faced.And uniting.
This pandemic has united us – all of us across the world, across the country, across the room – making vividly clear,:
- WE ARE ALL HUMAN – forced to dig deep each and every day with a stamina we have never demanded of ourselves, and others, before;
- WE ARE ALL HURTING – recognising that everyone is feeling pressure, feeling loss, feeling fear;
- WE ARE ALL EXHAUSTED – respecting that everyone is carrying a heavy load, needing rest, needing to feel safe;
- WE ARE ALL LONGING – knowing how we all ache to touch, to feel, to breathe, once more;
- WE ARE ALL BONDED – united in our refreshed awareness that we all need care, kindness, compassion and courage from one another.
For all of the uncertainty still facing us all, especially the layers of mental health, economic and societal crisis that will emerge, rapidly and painfully from COVID-19, reasons for hope still exist, hope we all need to hold onto, a lifeline pulling us all forward, whispering to us a reminder us that through tragedy can emerge tenderness, through trauma can emerge healing, through darkness can emerge the dawn.
The soothsayer somehow knew. x
Copyright: ANITA MENDIRATTA 2021
The global hospitality community has always been one of exceptional leaders – people who have dedicated their lives to taking care of, protecting, serving, and celebrating others.
Why? Because hospitality has always been about welcoming people into one’s home, whether ‘home’ is a B&B, a major hotel, a resort, a private property, a boutique establishment or a shared space. Hospitality is ultimately about home. True hospitality leadership is, and always will be, about honouring this truth.
Just days ago the global travel community suffered an incredible loss. With great shock and sadness, news spread – news that caused us all to look twice, check sources, question its truth, and quietly pray it was not so. At a time of endless hardship, heartache and helplessness for millions across the globe, news of the passing of Arne Sorenson was haunting. Following a long period of struggle with pancreatic cancer it was his time to rest.
The news was something that no one was ready for because he was a man that no one in the international hospitality community was ready to let go. Immediately messages of grieving were passed around the world from community to community: across hospitality, across C-Suite peers, across friends. Shock and sadness eclipsed protocol and policy. Outreaches were in every direction as the hospitality community in every part of the world felt a sense of loss. Whether one had at one time shaken his hand, or simply heard of his life’s work, all were shaken.
Remarkable about Arne was not purely his example of excellence as the President and CEO of Marriott International – the company’s first leader not Marriott blood-family, but the way in which he created an international, thousands-strong family across Marriott. Surprisingly for many, the bonds of grief formed by his passing reached beyond the business to touch the wider global hospitality community, stretching to the highest levels, across colleagues and competitors alike. Spontaneous, unfiltered statements of sadness were penned by our industry’s elite, its elders, its everyman and everywoman. As divided as we have all been this past year – grounded as a result of borders, skies and doors being forced closed – and often working in parallel yet apart towards safe, secure, sustainable restart of our essential sector, news of the loss of a pillar of our community found us, in an instance, united.
In this moment of pause, prayer, for for many, pangs of loss, it feels a powerful message has been whispered, one that will hopefully be a part of the DNA of our shared Travel & Tourism future: future leadership is not purely about monitoring and managing the numbers, nor the traditional industry metrics. Leadership in the future is about protecting, promoting and passionately uniting those in the hospitality community – the visitors and the visited, the leaders and the loved ones – building meaningful, quantitatively and qualitatively measurable bonds through our life’s work in our essential industry, recognising that through these times of historical challenge, ‘essential’ has become an adjective to describe fundamental value and worth.
Whether hotel industry competitors, colleagues, former classmates or future confidantes, Arne inspired all in the Travel, Tourism and Hospitality sector to recognise that, first and foremost, hospitality is about taking care of one. He bravely stood before the cameras in 2020’s early days of the pandemic to inspire courage, compassion, hope and unity: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X6af2lVfDDk.
Today, a year on, he has done it once more. https://twitter.com/marriottintl/status/1362920882990174209
Arne Sorenson has left a legacy of exemplary leadership not only as a hospitality professional and practitioner, but as a person. In leaving our community, he opened our shared community heart. He opened our ability to spontaneously reach out to one another and simply say, without agenda, without any intended outcome, “I’m sorry for your loss”. This has been, it feels, a parting gift, for at this time when our incredible industry continues to suffer inexplicable loss, the ability to look around and see who still cares, is invaluable.
Rest well, fine Sir. x
Copyright: ANITA MENDIRATTA 2021