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What it's like in hotel quarantine: Ben's story

Wednesday 16 September 2020

Ben stands in an empty airport wearing a mask
Ben wore a mask to protect himself and others from COVID-19 throughout his trip back to Australia.

This article was written during the Queensland response to the COVID-19 pandemic and reflects the information available at the date of publication. Please check the Queensland Government COVID-19 webpage for updated information and current health advice regarding COVID-19 in Queensland. All information was correct as per the experience of the interviewee at the time of their interview.

Every single Queenslander has been touched by the COVID-19 pandemic this year. Whether restrictions have altered your ability to work, you’ve had to cancel plans to see family and friends, you’ve needed to run school at home for your children, or you’ve just been more vigilant with handwashing, each and every one of us has been affected.

Because Queenslanders have worked so hard to flatten the curve and slow the spread of COVID-19 in our state, most of us have not directly come into contact with the virus so far, even if it has changed how we live day-to-day. But some Queenslanders have been directly affected by the virus, either because they’ve caught it, because they’ve had to undertake essential travel, or because they work in our hospitals and health systems testing and treating people with COVID-19.

This is one of a series of stories of everyday Queenslanders who have had real experiences with COVID-19. We wanted to share these stories to help Queenslanders understand what it’s been like working on the frontlines of this pandemic and what it’s been like to be truly caught up in the virus’s path. These stories are a record of the hard work that has been done and will continue to be done in Queensland, and a reminder about why we need to stay vigilant when it comes to preventing the spread of COVID-19.

What it's like in hotel quarantine

Queensland man Ben has lived and worked in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, for the past three years. When the pandemic started, Ben chose to stay in Amsterdam.

“Amsterdam is my home; it’s where my work is, where my apartment is, where my girlfriend is,” he explains. “Things in Amsterdam have been serious, and it’s scary, but I felt safe taking precautions, staying at home and working at home.”

Ben lived under the strict lockdown rules of the city, hearing stories of friends at home and abroad who were catching the virus and becoming seriously unwell. He knew that travel to Australia to see his family and friends would now be off the cards for a while. Then, his grandmother fell ill.

“My grandma got really, really sick, very suddenly. It was clear she wasn’t going to make it,” he says. “I was really lucky; I contacted work and told them what was happening and that I needed to go home to Australia, and they were fine with that. I contacted the Australian Embassy at the Hague and they let me know how I could come back and what quarantine would involve. I was on a flight and in Australia within 48 hours.”

A photo of Ben's empty plane, with airline staff in full protective equimpent.

“When we arrived at the airport, there were Queensland Police, Australian Federal Police and Army personnel there to greet us. It looked like overkill with so few people arriving at the airport, but we’d all come from worse-hit places; we all knew how important it was.”

Sadly, Ben’s grandmother passed away while he was flying home, but he was glad to be able to be in Australia to support and mourn with his family, even though it would still be a long time before he could see them. While some exemptions were given to people in exceptional circumstances to change their quarantine conditions, Ben was not granted one, and would need to stay in a quarantine hotel for two weeks.

“I was escorted to the hotel by the police. It was really weird being given a room key that would only work once to let me in the room – I couldn’t leave it again.”

Managing health and wellbeing in quarantine

Ben has asthma, a condition he manages daily. Once he arrived at the hotel, he knew that staying in a room without fresh air could aggravate his condition.

“When I was checking in, I asked if I could have a room with a balcony to get some fresh air, but all the rooms were already allocated, and you needed a mental health waiver to get a balcony room. By day two, I woke up feeling very tight in the chest and knew that I couldn’t stay in the air conditioning.”

To apply to move rooms, Ben needed to have a medical professional write a letter verifying his condition, so he booked a telehealth appointment with the family GP he saw when he lived in Brisbane, and then provided his letter to the Queensland Health team organising quarantine. It took two more days to arrange, but Ben was moved to a different hotel where he could have a room with fresh air.

“The police had to talk to Queensland Health, and then the room had to be organised with a different hotel. But that move made all the difference,” Ben says.

“Apart from that, I really tried to keep a routine every day to stay well. I was still working on Amsterdam time, to make use of the days. So, I would start work about 3 or 4pm, and work through to 1 or 2am, then go to bed in the early hours of the morning and sleep quite late.”

Ben realised that the strict quarantine conditions could wear on his mental and physical wellbeing, so he started a daily routine to keep well.

“I would try to do things like yoga, meditation or reading to keep myself mentally and physically well, and I even started logging how often and how much I did these. It wasn’t too strange, because I’d been in lockdown at home in Amsterdam anyway.”

A photo of Ben ironing his bread to make toast.

Reunited with family

Ben wasn’t able to attend his grandmother’s funeral in person. Instead, he livestreamed the event, watching on as his family gathered to celebrate her life.

“That was a very, very strange and sad day. I put on my suit and tie and sat and watched my grandmother’s funeral. I remember at the end, after the ceremony was over, my family could all comfort each other. But, for me, the livestream was cut off and I was alone in my room.”

Now that his quarantine has finished, Ben has been able to see his family.

“I get to reunite my grandma with my grandpa and scatter her ashes into the ocean where we scattered his. That’s really special, and I’m so grateful I can be there for that. I’m so happy that I can be here for my mum and my family during this time now.”

Ben’s story is similar to many other Queenslanders who have had to return home from lives overseas for urgent family and health matters. These people are doing their bit in quarantine to keep everyone safe from the spread of COVID-19, having seen the havoc it can wreak in the places where they now live. Ben urges Queenslanders to not get complacent about the virus and its effects.

“It’s crazy to come here and hear people saying that it’s not a real threat or that the measures taken to keep people safe haven’t been worthwhile. It’s really frustrating, when you’ve seen how quickly things can get really bad firsthand. I hope people keep taking it seriously. This is a very serious disease.”

More information about COVID-19 in Queensland

Please check the Queensland Government COVID-19 webpage for updated information and current health advice regarding COVID-19 in Queensland.

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Last updated: 16 September 2020