As one of the last people in Sydney’s hotel quarantine, I hope it never returns

It meant at Sydney Airport to be greeted by plastic-clad nurses and soldiers; then a late night mystery tour of Sydney.

“Where are we going?” I asked the driver. “I can not tell you that,” he replied. “Why not?” “I can ‘t tell you that either.”

Also in quarantine – inside room 110 – we were treated with the same care and subject to the same protocols as the tens of thousands who arrived before us.

Andrew Thomas and his 10-year-old daughter Tamasin show off quarantine bracelets.

Andrew Thomas and his 10-year-old daughter Tamasin show off quarantine bracelets. Credit:Wolter Peeters

Like them, we learned to recognize the various knocks on the door. Tamasin and I called one of them “The Door to Doom” – we could approach but never pass. Four regular banks meant that a paper bag of food was waiting. An irregular pattern, almost like a melody, told us that a nurse was waiting with cotton swabs.

Like those before us, we had a guard sitting in the corridor outside our room every hour, every day. I once made the mistake of pulling a bag of food in while I was maskless. It was noticed. Within five minutes, the phone rang with a complaint from the police officer who was permanently stationed in the lobby downstairs.

A fire alarm on our third morning really brought things home. We were woken at 6.30 by a screaming siren and a robotic voice: “Fire, fire: evacuate immediately! Fire, fire: evacuate!”

But within a minute, the robot was interrupted by another voice, a panicked human. “Those in quarantine, DO NOT evacuate. Stay in your rooms! Wait for further instructions.” The risk that we could infect others seemed to trump our right to flee. I leaned over the balcony and could not see any smoke. So I signed back up to the system.

Like thousands before us, we thought two weeks of confinement would mean new skills and many movies. But we only saw two of the latter, and my Dutch (yes, Dutch!) Is just as rusty as ever.

Instead, we learned that during quarantine, both pull and jump. Busy workdays can kill most daylight hours, and there is always another origami video on YouTube. But especially on the weekends, the days felt endless. Chess, math tests and online yoga were never the norm for us. But now they will forever be connected with our time, well to make time; all three, slightly traumatic.

Still, the bond with my daughter was a plus; though, as I joked, our close ties were tied in the crucible of despair.

10-year-old Tamasin Thomas under quarantine in Sydney.

10-year-old Tamasin Thomas under quarantine in Sydney.

The hotel quarantine does not end completely tonight. Non-vaccinated adults and any children entering NSW will continue to go through the system. People traveling from abroad to some other states will also have to endure it for some time yet.

But their number will be relatively small. Tonight, the curtain falls largely on what began as a panicked reaction and developed into a pop-up industry of human treatment. It was certainly effective as the pandemic was worst abroad, but it undoubtedly lasted beyond its useful date.

As two of the last people treated through Sydney’s hotel quarantine, we hope, as so many thousands before us, that it will never have to return.

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