Travel | December 7, 2020 8:02 am

What It’s Like to Spend Two Weeks in a Quarantine Hotel

A first-person account of a COVID-era existential layover in Australia

covid hotel
Man in protective suit disinfecting the Hotel room.
Mustafagull

While vaccines dominate the news, we’re still in the midst of a pandemic reality for the time being. Travel is extraordinarily difficult, and every country has its own rules and regulations for returning citizens and/or tourists. We asked Carly P. (her real name has been changed for anonymity) about her very recent trip back home to Australia after living in the United States. This is her story of spending two weeks in a “quarantine hotel,” a measure that has become commonplace in a number of countries; in compiling research for this story, we heard from people who had very similar experiences in New Zealand, Canada and Hong Kong.

Below, Carly describes her experience in a quarantine hotel in her own words, with minor edits for space and clarity.


I was coming back for the [Australian] summer, as I’ve lived in New York for nine years and wanted to spend an extended break with my family — my father is sick and my siblings and friends are starting families, so this was planned. I knew what would happen before I got here. I had been following it on the news and as the pandemic has gone on, and I’ve had quite a few friends go through quarantine.

I was put into a “Medical” or “Hospital” Hotel in Mascot, which is in the same Sydney suburb as the airport and close to the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. I had to go to this hotel as opposed to a regular quarantine hotel because my tooth broke on the flight to Sydney and it was looking like I might need medical attention during the 14 days of quarantine. I spoke to various doctors and nurses at the airport, explained my situation with my tooth, and they decided that I would be taken to a medical hotel, just in case I needed to see a dentist or doctor (I didn’t, they just gave me painkillers).

This is a special hotel where people who tested positive for COVID on arrival or have covid-like symptoms or pre-existing conditions are sent. It was more like a serviced apartment block. I was in a huge one-bedroom apartment that had a laundry, lounge and kitchen … although the gas was not connected, so you couldn’t use the stove or oven, only the microwave. It also had a balcony, which I was very excited about! I was concerned about not having any fresh air for 14 days, as this has happened to a few friends of mine. That would’ve driven me crazy.

I was not allowed to leave my room for any reason whatsoever or even given a room key. If I needed anything, I was to call the nurses station or reception. If I left my room I would be fined and charged by the police. 

Every morning my temperature and blood pressure were checked and I was given a COVID test six times during my 15-day stay. I was also called by doctors and mental health professionals at least once every afternoon, if not more often.

I had a few friends and my sister drop care packages/food off and was able to see them out the window — and scream at them from my 10th floor balcony, but this wasn’t really conducive to conversation. My sister actually sat across the road from the hotel and called me so we could talk whilst seeing each other. This was surprisingly comforting and I noticed a few other people do this during my stay. 

I had no interaction in the hotel with other guests, only the medical staff. Hotel staff would leave food deliveries and packages on the floor, knock and then walk away so that there was no interaction with me.

As far as the scandal regarding security guards at quarantine hotels — in which a number of contracted workers have been accused of engaging in sex with people stuck in lockdown — my friends and family brought it up, but the hotel or medical staff didn’t.

I was not allowed to leave my room for any reason whatsoever or even given a room key. If I left my room I would be fined and charged by the police. 

I left on a Monday morning. I had a final COVID test on Sunday; the results came back negative and I was allowed to leave at 12:01 a.m. on Monday after receiving written consent from the doctor. I believe this is different from usual quarantine. I waited until the morning to leave. I had to call the nurses station, who then sent someone to escort me out of the hotel, as there could be positive COVID cases in the hotel and this limits potential exposure.

The worst part of all of this was the Saturday before I left. Up until then I had been quite positive and in good spirits — the first week actually flew by — but that day was really tough and seemed to last a month. I’m not sure what triggered it, but it was the lowest point of the whole experience.

That said, all of the staff (medical and hotel) have been amazing. They were super lovely, helpful and did their best to answer any questions or help with anything I was struggling with.

Australia is in an unusual position as it has such low case numbers and as it’s an island, it’s much easier to control people coming and going. I think quarantine in this respect works and I didn’t have a problem with the concept or doing it. My issue is with the Australian government not allowing more people to return home; they’ve left more than 35,000 people stranded overseas, and for months, I was one of these people! I was booked on a flight to return in August but kept getting bumped, and it ended taking me four months to get back.