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Quarantined Down Under

According to the Australian Government Department of Health, as of December 10, Australia had just 15 daily cases of COVID. 15. In the whole country. The country currently has a strict policy of no visitors, and Australian citizens must complete their 14-day quarantine in a hotel upon entry. I have seen a number of articles and videos online about people’s quarantine experiences and subsequent return to normal life after the 14 days. Because of the low number of cases in Australia, normal is not the “new normal” we’ve gotten used to in the city, but actually the old normal that seems to be in the very distant past. Since borders are closed, I could not fly there to conduct investigative journalism, but MBA2 and Australian citizen Ravi Somanchi shared his experiences with us.

How long is the flight from JFK to Sydney?

About 24 hours in total – 6 hours to LA and then 15 hours from LA to Sydney. There’s usually a transit of a few hours in LA which can make the journey feel even longer though. 

What was the process like once you landed in Australia and went to the hotel to quarantine?

Bit of a crazy process – felt like there were 6 different checkpoints before I could even leave the airport:

1. Health check with a nurse checking temperature, asking for symptoms and explaining the quarantine process

2. First check-in with a police officer

3. Standard immigration clearance

4. Standard customs clearance (although the officer involved insisted on taking every single object out of my luggage – I didn’t realize COVID could be smuggled in that way)

5. Another police check

6. Final check where you are directed onto a bus

Once on the bus, the journey to the hotel took over 2 hours as we had to wait until our designated window to check into the hotel. Then another hour wait at the hotel to get in. It was definitely a frustrating and tiring experience after a 15 hour flight!

What was the most challenging part about quarantine?

Just trying to stay sane and finding things to do all day was surprisingly tough. They don’t give a room key so you are literally locked in there for 14 days. No interactions with anyone, no balcony so no fresh air and just generally nothing to do.  

Was there anything you were pleasantly surprised by during your stay?

The room was actually pretty big (not too much smaller than the average NYC apartment!). You could also get care packages from friends and family which was nice (after they had been inspected by the police of course). 

Here is a view from my hotel room:

Around what day did you start going crazy?

Pretty much as soon as the jet lag passed and the realization dawned that there’s literally nothing to do or see. So let’s say day 3. I knew it was dire straits when the highlight of my day was listening for the door knock which signalled that my food was here.

A photo of Ravi’s daily party box

Were you able to order room service?

You could if you wanted, but I did not.

What did you do to pass the time when you weren’t in class?

I went back around the time of the US elections so that craziness filled in a lot of time. The local cricket and rugby competitions were on TV so it was good to get reacquainted with that. Otherwise just the usual Netflix and streaming stuff to keep me going – managed to catch up with The Queen’s Gambit and The Mandalorian while I was in there. 

What did you realize you take for granted the most in our daily lives while you were quarantined? 

A cliche answer but really just general freedom and the ability to live our lives relatively uninhibited even with some restrictions in place. Although I am still in a privileged position being able to get back home – I thought about all the people still stuck overseas due to the crisis with no ability to get back.

What was the first thing you did after leaving the hotel?

When I got back to my parents’ place, we all had lunch on our deck in the backyard – really needed to soak in that fresh air after 2 weeks stuck inside. 

How are things in Australia now? Do people wear masks?

It’s great here! There are almost no community transmitted cases (only cases are in the hotel quarantine) so there are very few restrictions – I went to a cricket match with over 20,000 in attendance and a couple weddings with around 200 people present in pretty close quarters. Everything is open and feels quite normal here and what things would be like pre-pandemic. Very few people wear masks given the low risk of COVID spreading – I haven’t worn one since I got here.  

Sounds amazing. Are tourists allowed to come to Australia right now or only citizens? 

Unfortunately no tourists allowed for the next few months – still just citizens and those who qualify for certain exemptions. Although even if tourists could come, the cost of the flight tickets and hotel quarantine are exorbitant.

Photo credit: https://www.australia.com/en/trips-and-itineraries/sydney-and-surrounds/3-days-in-sydney.html

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