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My 14 days in a Cairns quarantine hotel

Thursday 17 September 2020

What is it actually like to stay in a quarantine hotel for two weeks?

Two recent Cairns guests, Mark* and Margaret* (not real names) share their experiences, and provide tips for anyone else who may need to check-in.

You may have heard about people needing to stay in quarantine hotels, in order to prevent COVID-19 from spreading.

In response to the global pandemic, anyone arriving in Queensland must quarantine if, in the last 14 days, they have been overseas, been in a COVID-19 hotspot, been in contact with someone who has COVID-19, has the virus themselves, or any symptoms.

A 14-day long stay at a government-arranged hotel is mandatory, unless you have received an exemption – which is rare.


MARK* is a FIFO worker from Cairns, who regularly travels between Far North Queensland and Papua New Guinea.

“I was quite surprised when I flew into Cairns for the first time in six months.

“I was pretty sheltered in PNG from the COVID-19 pandemic and didn’t know what to expect.

“When we landed at Cairns International Airport, there were no shops open, no duty free – just Border Force.

“Everything was pretty standard once we got through Border Control, that’s when all the COVID-19 stuff kicked in.

“There were only 14 of us on the flight, but we all had interviews with a police officer, who looked at all of our documentation, told us about all the rules and regulations, and we signed documents to say we wouldn’t break any of the rules.

“One of the hotel rules was that we were only allowed six beers a day while we were in the quarantine hotel.

“I’m not a big drinker, so that wasn’t a problem for me.

“We were escorted to a bus, which took us to the hotel. Upon our arrival, we were met by another police officer who went over the rules and other policies again, before we went to our individual rooms, and giving us information packs.

“The room was pretty stock-standard. I had a balcony, but I only had a limited amount of daylight each morning, as the room was blocked from the sun the remainder of the day due to being in a building’s shadow.

“I was tested on day 2, and day 11 of my stay, and both times I tested negative to COVID-19.

“While you are in quarantine, you become acutely aware of every single symptom you are experiencing.

“During my stay in the hotel, I had a sore throat. Immediately I thought the worst but was relieved that I tested negative.

“Had I tested positive, though, there was always someone there to help me.

“One of the biggest challenges was boredom.

“You just get sick of being stuck in the same room, with four walls, for two weeks.

“I reckon I started to crack around Day 10.

“Fortunately, I had my family here in Cairns, who kept in contact with me.

“I also had my X-Box, which used to play Fortnite with my 11-year-old son. He loves Fortnite, and for us, it has been a great way to connect, talking through our headsets.

“It also helped keep me sane throughout my stay.

“It’s also important to try and do your exercise daily.

“The rooms here in Cairns are quite large, compared to other hotels I’ve heard about down south.

“You could sit at the table, and you could walk around a little bit. And all the movies on the TV were free – it was great to have that there, just for my mental health, even if I had already watched most of the films.

“I also had my work laptop, so was able to get a bit of work done, and read a book.

“I think if there’s anything they could do to make things better, it would be the food.

“There seemed to be tomato sauce in nearly every dish I had for dinner.

“I had to pay $3000 to stay in the hotel, but was told there were opportunities for people who couldn’t afford to pay that, to get financial assistance.

“At the end of the day, you need to understand that this is just part of the process of keeping everyone safe.

“If I was to go into the community without quarantining, I could make people sick, including elderly people who are particularly at risk if they become infected.

“As soon as I got the TXT message after my final swab results were in, I contacted my family immediately to let them know I would be coming home soon, and then my boss to let them know I was out.

“It felt really good to leave those four walls.

“But I’ve got to go back to PNG later this year. I don’t mind going through this whole process again.

“For me, you’ve got to have the right attitude going in, and you’ve got to have stuff to keep your mind active. That’s a big part.”


MARGARET* was living in PNG for a few months and recently returned home to Cairns to see her family.

“I flew into Cairns from Port Moresby, where I had been living for a few months.

“We flew into Cairns International Airport, and when we landed, we were met immediately by Customs who scanned our baggage in the x-ray machine.

“They asked us our names, addresses, mobile numbers, and other information to add to their records.

“Then we got on a bus and were taken to the hotel.

“The whole time, I wasn’t close to other people. I didn’t sit next to anybody on the bus, we were only one person per row.

“When we arrived at the hotel, there was an official waiting at the foot of the stairs there. He took us upstairs, and there was someone there to tell us which room we would be staying in.

“We went up in the lift separately, and then into our rooms.

“I remember opening the door: my room was rather nice. It was big, with lots of light, and very clean.

“It had a little cane setting with a table and a couple of chairs, where I could look out from the balcony.

“I enjoyed looking out: it became part of my routine.

“My day would start out with breakfast, which was always delivered the previous afternoon and I would pop that into the fridge. It was cereal – either Corn Flakes or Sultana Bran, and sometimes fruit.

“I would then do a bit of daily exercise, including walking around the room and doing a few squats, trying to touch my toes – that sort of thing.

“I would then go and do some knitting or read my book.

“I came well-prepared for my two weeks in quarantine, downloading quite a few books onto my Kindle.

“The book I read all the time was Four Fires by Bryce Courtney. It was in my bookcase, next to my bed back at home. I always thought because it was so big, I would never get through it. So, I thought I would download it and read it while I was in isolation, which I did. And it was fantastic.

“We had tea and coffee making facilities in the room, so if you ran out of something, you would just ring down to reception and they would bring something up for you.

“I ran out of coffee once and rang down to reception – they came up in a flash with refills.

“Everyone was very helpful.

“Queensland Health rang twice while I was there, and someone else from the government. There was always someone there if you really needed some help.

“I had someone ring me to ask if I had all my medication, and if not, they could provide it for me.

“They gave me all the phone numbers I would need, if I needed somebody to talk to.

“On the second day of my stay, I had a COVID-19 swab test.

“It was a very simple process, and I wasn’t anxious about it at all.

“The nurse who came to the door – wearing full PPE – was very pleasant, and really made me feel at ease.

“Police officers were located down the corridor from my room. I knew they were always there, but never needed them.

“Lunch time usually consisted of sandwich, and it usually came with something like a small salad – either leafy or pasta.

“Then I would usually ring one of my friends and talk to them over the phone. This was always important for me, because it made my time go faster, and gave me something else to think about.

“I had heard of people complaining about quarantine hotels, but there was always someone at hand to help me, if I needed anything.

“Dinner was nice. They had soup, and there was usually something with either rice or pasta, and it was always hot.

“I had a final swab towards the end of my stay, with a different nurse.

“They didn’t contact me because there wasn’t a problem.

“When I was finally discharged from the hotel, I was glad to be reunited with my family.

“I understand why there are quarantine hotels, and it upsets me when you see reports of people not taking the pandemic seriously.

“We all need to work together to prevent this virus from spreading.”

Last updated: 17 September 2020