I did a lot of research before I checked into quarantine in Australia. I lurked in a multitude of Facebook groups, spoke with those who had done it before me, and slowly developed my own strategies to cope with being locked up for 14 days. Here’s how it worked for me in South Australia.
There’s plenty of advice in Facebook-land on what to pack. Some of it applies to everyone. Some of it depends on you. The things I packed in addition to my standard travel packing list (don't forget adaptor plugs and multiple charging cables) included a set of cutlery (some of the hotels only offer plastic cutlery), a set of chopsticks (my preferred implement for Asian food), a bottle opener, a tea towel, a reusable coffee cup, a travel washing line, a pocket knife and a small vial of dishwashing liquid.
As it turned out, my hotel provided a tea towel, two sets of cutlery and two plates, along with glasses and mugs. There was a washing line over the bath. They provided all the standard toiletries, additional face masks, and four sachets of laundry powder. There was a kettle, iron and Nespresso machine (but only four capsules), along with instant coffee, sugar sachets, tea bags, two bottles of water (although the tap water is potable) and two small cartons of long life milk.
As a coffee lover (and Nespresso hater), the most important thing I packed was an espresso machine. I found a small, light machine by Salter that didn’t take up much space or cost too much money and threw in a bag of coffee grinds to get me through the first few days, a milk jug in readiness for latte-making, and sweeteners. The coffee machine was an essential component of my survival. Essential. Everything else I could have lived without.
With the sheer volume of flights being cancelled and seats being bumped, for most people trying to get to Australia, the biggest threat is not getting on the plane. Not having the right paperwork is a legitimate fear. I printed everything. I had a Covid test at the drive through ExpressTest centre at Heathrow Airport 66 hours before my flight time. The negative result came back within 26 hours. I also completed the Australian Travel Declaration and got the standard ridiculously confusing message back, which makes you think you’re not approved to travel. It says “Your Australia Travel Declaration has been assessed and does not meet the criteria for a quarantine-free flight.” All this means is that you are not exempt from quarantine. It’s basically answering a question you haven’t asked.
After landing in Adelaide, we were ushered off the plane into a roped off area, where each passenger was asked to discard their old mask and was provided a new mask. I think my temperature was taken too, but it’s all a bit of a blur now. I was also handed a sheaf of papers that explained the quarantine process, but had no time to read them. Buried in this paperwork is the fact that Day One of quarantine is not the day you arrive in South Australia. That’s Day Zero. So actually, you’re in for 15 days.
The next step is the standard immigration procedure. The queue was unusually short – it was only the passengers on our flight, which I'd estimate at around 30 in total. The luggage came out quickly, and then it was through customs with the forms provided on the plane. I declared my bag of coffee and a small wooden jewellery box. Customs weren’t interested. They x-rayed my luggage and I was directed to sit on one of the numbered chairs around the edge of the room. I was number 9. Most of the passengers with young children continued on, while my group was solo flyers and couples, with one or two families with older children. Finally, they called for the people in seats 1 to10 to continue through to the arrivals area.
As we exited, we were directed towards a waiting area by a bus. One by one, people in full PPE took our luggage and we boarded. There were maybe 20 people in total on a large bus. As we pulled away, the driver told us we were going to the Pullman Adelaide for our quarantine. He chatted away as we travelled, providing the occasional tourist fact about Adelaide. The airport is only 6kms from the city centre, so it was a short journey. We drove past a few restaurants where people were sitting in groups. It seemed like another world, far from the UK which has been in and out of lockdown for what feels like years.
At the Pullman Adelaide, the General Manager boarded the bus and told us they would first unload our luggage and line it up by the hotel entrance. We would then be asked to leave the bus in socially distanced groups of five. Disembarking, each of us collected our suitcases and either took them ourselves or loaded them onto luggage trolleys (that we were asked not to touch), which were taken by staff.
At the door of the hotel, I showed my passport and a woman handed me some paperwork and an envelope with my name on it and a room key inside, telling me I was in luck and had a balcony. After an emotional journey that piece of information had me holding back tears. I showed my passport again to two police at a table towards the elevators and was escorted to my room. The hotel staff member unlocked the door and propped it open, standing aside so I could enter. He mentioned that dinner would be delivered later – this was around 9pm. He wheeled the luggage trolley to the doorway so I could manhandle my bags into the room and he then removed the wedge holding the door open. The door clicked closed, beginning my detainment.
My room was a reasonable size. Nice enough décor with a large bed, desk, a small sofa in one corner and an armchair, both a bathtub and a shower, and most importantly, a good-sized corner balcony with one plastic chair on it. That chair became my coffee table when I was sitting on the sofa, which is also where I ended up eating my meals.
I let my loved ones know I’d arrived and read through all the paperwork, crawling into bed past 11pm when there was a knock on the door signalling dinner had arrived. I climbed back out of bed, followed the directions for the receipt of food, and stashed it all in the fridge before going back to bed and not sleeping courtesy of jet lag.
Food is delivered three times a day. Breakfast is quite early by my standards – around 7.30. Lunch can be any time between 12 and 2 and dinner any time between 6 and 7.30, although it once arrived at 5.30. Fundamentally, it’s airline food. On the whole, it wasn’t bad, although there was too much of it. The hotel posted the menu each day on their Facebook Group for quarantiners and included a print out in the dinner bag the evening before.
Every meal is delivered in a brown paper bag. A typical breakfast might be scrambled eggs, sausage and kale with an apple, and a slice of banana loaf. Lunch varied between salads, which were quite delicious, and hot meals similar to dinner, often with some kind of side snack, like roasted chickpeas, a granola bar or a bag of crisps. Dinner would generally be a side salad of some kind and a hot main, sometimes with a bread roll, along with a dessert. A couple of times I cancelled the hot portion of lunch in favour of eating lighter.
The best dinner was Korean ribs with bok choy and corn and the top dessert was chocolate mud cake. The worst was pressed turkey breast. I wasn’t a fan of the packaged rice pudding dessert either.
By the end of my stay I had enough paper bags to build a house.
Food hack: You can turn the iron upside down and use it to warm any food in a foil container.
Alcohol is allowed but the quantities are limited to one bottle of wine or six beers per day or a bottle of spirits every three days. The hotel had a reasonably priced wine list and also provided information about bottle shop and supermarket deliveries. Note: Coles in Adelaide will apparently not deliver alcohol to quarantine hotels. I drank very little during my stay, although I did appreciate the quarantini cocktail the hotel delivered to every adult guest one Friday and the final night bottle of red they rewarded us with.
Online shopping is possible BUT you need an Australian mobile number. I ordered a sim card online from Telstra but it took a couple of days to be delivered. In the meantime, I explained my issue to reception who kindly arranged for me to use the duty manager mobile number and ran off to get me the authentication code. Unfortunately, by the time I got all this to happen I’d lost the slot. I tried to book delivery for the next day, but the only delivery slot available ran past 8pm and alcohol has to be delivered before then. My bottle of wine prevented that happening. I gave up and waited for Monday when I could order from the more local Foodland across the road, which had no minimum order and free weekday deliveries. For that, they got my business throughout my stay.
There are certain things that happen regularly:
A rap on the door signifies food delivery. Wait 30 seconds, put on a mask, open the door, grab the paper bag from the table outside and duck back inside. I am now conditioned to salivate every time I hear a knock.
The South Australian Police call every day. Some are more friendly than others. Mostly they just ask your name and date of birth and check that you’re okay.
A nurse rings every day. Again, some are chattier than others. They have a list of symptoms they run through, including headache and abdominal pain. Apparently if you answer yes to any of these you are given another Covid test. I had a headache on my first day after all the travel and limited sleep, but a Covid test was already scheduled for the next day, so it wasn't an issue. They ask how you’re doing emotionally and whether you need any prescriptions or medication. On the first day, they also ask about any health issues.
Once a week there’s a mental health call. On the first one, they ask you to rate your emotional health over the past three weeks via a series of questions where you rank your stress levels. I suspect most people give quite high levels. It's a stressful process. On the second call a week later, you’re asked to do the same thing, but only about the past three days. That doesn’t quite seem equal, but I guess it gets them the results they want.
You get tested at least three times, not counting the pre-flight PCR requirement. The tests are done on day two, day five and day twelve. The nurse reminds you the day before and gives you an indication of the time to expect them. They rap on the door and you open with your mask on and passport in hand (trying not to salivate). They wear full PPE. They check your ID and ask for a contact number.
You then stand sideways and remove your mask so they can take the swab from your throat and nose. Two of the three nurses for my tests were so thorough I think they scraped the edge of my brain through my right nostril. You receive a text the next day with your results.
I drew up a schedule for the week that included administrative tasks I wanted to get done. Each day. I crossed though the tasks and then crossed out the entire day so I maintained a countdown.
Of course, I had Netflix, plus there’s a television in the room.
I bought an exercise bike from someone who was leaving and did a session on that every morning.
One day, I managed a 4km run by running in circles around my not-that-big room.
I got up really early every Sunday morning to do a Saturday night zoom quiz with my UK friends.
I spoke to my boyfriend and my mum a couple of times a day and a significant number of my friends checked in with me, some daily. One local friend came and stood below my balcony and called me so we had a conversation almost in person.
I had work to do, although my productivity levels were low.
I downloaded the FitOn exercise app and did free workouts every day.
I played online games with my boyfriend and other friends – Canasta and a game based on Scrabble.
I discovered Teleparty and had a couple of movie dates with my boyfriend where we watched the same movie simultaneously and overlaid Zoom so we could see each other.
I had a couple of self-care sessions: a bubble bath and a pedicure.
The hotel held a weekly bed making competition (fresh linen is available on Tuesdays and Fridays. If you want your linen changed you put your dirty linen outside the door at 1pm and they replace it with clean). I looked up how to make a swan from towels and won a bottle of wine for my efforts.
The hotel also put short workout videos on their Facebook group page.
With my final destination being Tasmania, I had to arrange onwards travel. I was released on a Sunday, one of the days when there are no direct flights. Melbourne had a snap five-day lockdown that started in my first week. I didn’t want to fly via Melbourne just in case. I was already nervous about whether Tasmania was going to let me in. I finally booked into the Ibis across the road, sister hotel to the Pullman, as the hotel offered to transfer my luggage for me and staying one extra night meant a) I could go for a walk and start getting used to this maskless, free society and b) catch the direct flight the next day.
The most stressful thing I had to deal with was the G2G pass for Tasmania, but that’s another story, one of unclear information, multiple refusals and unnecessary stress.
The Final Words
Quarantine wasn’t fun, but it also wasn’t dire. It would have been much harder without access to fresh air (please Australia, recognise that air is vital for life). I know I was incredibly fortunate to be assigned a balcony room in the hotel room lottery. It also would’ve been harder had my friends not been the superbly supportive bunch that they are. Part of it though, comes down to you. If you must quarantine, use every resource at your disposal and remember you CAN do this.