Quarantine Diaries: A story in 5 parts (part 2)

Our family's journey from Washington DC to Sydney during Coronavirus. Our view from hotel quarantine. (courtesy)

Part 2: Mandatory Quarantine in a Sydney Hotel

I am locked in a room on the 38th floor of a hotel suite in Sydney’s business district. Police patrol the hallways and we have no key. We are at pains not to leave the room under any circumstances and if we do, they tell us, the door will lock behind us. So far I have had no desire to make a break for it. After weeks of packing up house and the ordeal of being vulnerable at airports, and on planes and buses, we can finally be still and safe.

This has surprised me. I thought being under lock and key in an unknown location with 3 kids and no control over food or our environment would be hell on earth, but instead I find it to be exactly what I need. On the other hand it is only day 2 of our 14 day quarantine.

When we first read of how mandatory quarantine was unfolding in Australia, we were gripped by dread at not having access to fresh air or fresh food. But it seems they got their act together. Our arrival to Sydney was orderly and we were treated kindly, from the lumbering Hagrid look-alike who helped haul our 15 suitcases onto a trolley, to the police officers awkwardly and gently trying to manage their new responsibilities as herders of the vulnerable. This kindness is everything and with it, my lingering anger at the Australian government for putting us at risk and on planes at this time has dissipated.

Grounded on the tarmac, we were only allowed to disembark after passengers from previous flights had been processed. Masks were handed out and we were evenly spaced till we underwent questioning and testing by medical personnel. I got very hot in my mask and worried my temperature would skew high, but no one called me out. No one cared about my doctor’s letter either, but at the hotel, we get a nurse’s call every day and I feel we have somewhere to turn if things deteriorate.

Our room is comfortable enough and two of our four walls are floor to ceiling glass windows from which we can see the city high rises and glimpses of Sydney Harbour and the ocean. This view is a gift. It gives us a feeling of spaciousness and the world beyond, even though we are physically trapped. I have a bird’s eye view of the cars and people passing below and at night, the breeze comes in through the small window opening. I breathe in the city and watch all the lights flickering from afar and know we are not alone.

Three times a day we get deliveries of food which are generous and mostly palatable, but we do not know when they will arrive. We wait and wait and feel a palpable thrill of excitement when we hear the telltale knock on the door and the monotony is broken and we know we’ll get to eat. We realised, with some self deprecating laughter how much we have become like our dog; utterly dependent on her owner’s magnanimity for food, spinning in excitement when dinner is served, late or not, depending on our schedule.

We are still jet lagged and learning how to spend our days in isolation but also all tumbled together as a family with barely any respite. So far it involves a lot of board games, tickling fights and screen time. We still haven’t killed each other. We still laugh.

When we first arrived at the hotel after hours at the airport waiting for all the families to be processed, we were greeted by police, who went through all the rules with us before accompanying us to our room. There was not enough space in the elevator for all our luggage to go up at once so my older kids went in with one cop and some suitcases, and we followed with two more cops and the rest. The older kids wondered how to politely break the awkward silence but the cop turned to them with a smile and broke the ice first: “Well… this is all pretty f@#$ed up!” I guess that sort of sums this moment up and it is also the most Australian welcome I can imagine.

About the Author
Gadia Zrihan is a Jewish wanderer par excellence. Born in Paris, she is a citizen of Australia, Israel and France with a touch of vagabond. She recently spent 4 years sojourning with her family in Washington DC and has now relocated to Sydney. Her heart's home is in Jerusalem. But for now, it’s about the journey not the destination.
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