Hotel quarantine presents challenges of its own

Stranded travellers return home, but for many the ordeal continues in quarantine in Australia

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For many of the 444 people who were able to leave India to Australia the 14-day, state-imposed compulsory hotel quarantine has been challenging.

For many of the 444 people who were able to leave India on a chartered flight to Australia on the Easter weekend, the 14-day, stateimposed compulsory quarantine has been challenging.

Online chat groups are detailing their frustration at the lack of basic amenities which can be expected when they are dependent on their host hotels to take care of their needs.

Not surprisingly, for many of the Indian-origin people during quarantine, the basic complaints are about food: with specific requests for vegetarian meals disregarded, they’ve gone hungry as meat-based meals kept appearing at their door. The quality of food came in for much discussion as well, with pictures being posted of food packs with expiry dates passed, open packets, partially cooked or tasteless food, and semi thawed food.

One pregnant woman is concerned she might get food poisoning, and one family with a toddler reported that their child hadn’t eaten anything for three days. In another case, soiled bedclothes revealed the room had not been cleaned from its previous occupant.

After four days of complaining to management and scampering to find other means such as Uber Eats or Sikh Missions (even though these were disallowed at the outset), the tide seems to be turning: those cooped up in their hotel rooms,  are now hopeful of better food options.

For the 6,000 plus Australians trapped in India when India shut down its international flights, the challenge was the uncertainty of knowing when they could get home. For Sydney sider Francine Haywood, who is a regular visitor to India, the worry was whether India could handle the rush from those requiring medical treatment due to coronavirus. “I felt the Australian healthcare system will be able to cope better with the corona virus pandemic.”

When a chartered Lion Air flight became available thanks to the efforts of Delhi-based expat Simon Quinn, there was a rush to get on the flight for the journey home. For many arrivals though, it looks as though the nightmare did not end.

But Melbourne’s Param Virdi is not one of them. He recounted his experience to Indian Link, “I was extremely happy with the way we were looked after and explained every step by the authorities at Melbourne Airport. They were courteous and welcoming.” With documents filled out and a food package in hand, they were transported to hotels for quarantine.

Even check in at Travelodge Docklands was done efficiently, Param related. “The Department of Health was there to ask us every question in detail and give us their contact details, should we need to reach them from our rooms. They asked if we had medical issues. I told them that I am Diabetic Type 2 and did not have sufficient medicine for the expected period of stay. The medicines were delivered to my room free of charge.”

For others, it has not been that happy an experience. An online chat group has been active in pointing out the shortcomings.

The 330-room hotel seemed to be ill-prepared for this influx of travellers, especially in a city in lockdown. The guests themselves, now isolated in small rooms, also were not in a position of having their routine requests being attended to. Issues like noisy air conditioning or faulty phone lines could not be handled due to the local hotel staff not being allowed to enter the rooms. But it seems that the biggest challenge has been with food.

Indian Link raised these issues with the hotel and a Travelodge spokesperson clarified, “We take the utmost care with food preparation and if anything happens, we take immediate steps to rectify the situation.  As part of group meal preparation, we portion out bulk prepared food items into smaller portions. In this instance, the actual product was not past its best buy date. We print and affix “consume by dates onto the containers on a daily basis as part of our food control program and unfortunately, through basic human error, the incorrect date was printed and affixed. The food in question was not out of date as all food is prepared daily. We have apologised for any distress this may have caused our guests.”

The spokesperson also promised that as of Friday, the catering company will produce an Indian menu especially for this group.

This will be welcome news for those in quarantine.

Keeping themselves busy in a small room is also a challenge especially to those with little kids. But Param Virdi reported he is adapting well. “Internet is provided by the hotel. I wake up in the morning and start working online, have my meals as they are delivered. I have allocated time for (my usual) activities – workouts, stretches, yoga, prayers. End of the day I clean up the kitchen area, toilet, pack the garbage and keep it out for collection,” he shared.

Francine Haywood, struggling with her special food requirements, is also trying to remain calm, and keeping up with her work as an artist.

This brings us down to the nitty gritty of it all: is 14-day quarantine in a hotel better than being in India, worried about the journey back home?

The overwhelming answer is, “Yes, because I am back home on Australian soil”.