From midnight, March 28, all Australian travelers returning from overseas have been forced into two-week quarantine–in a luxury hotel.
Following the country’s decision to close its borders to foreign tourists last month, tough new coronavirus measures mean Australians coming from abroad can no longer live out their mandatory 14-day self-isolation in the comfort of their own homes.
Instead they are being put up at state-run quarantine centres, which more often than not boils down to luxury hotels of the likes of Hilton, InterContinental and Swissôtel. The federal government is footing the bill for their stay and food. Surprisingly, it’s a punishment worse than hell for some.
On landing, all international travelers are now escorted immediately to a hotel in whichever state of Australia they arrive. They cannot return home until they have served their hotel sentence. Which is precisely how some travelers are portraying their plush bathrobed stays–as prison sentences.
Within no time of checking-in (albeit under heavy police presence), the outcry from a complaining contingent of quarantined hotel residents started to hit social media.
From her suite at the Swissôtel, 42-year-old classical pianist, Ambre Hammond, described the conditions as “abysmal”. She and about 300 Australians who were onboard the Norwegian Jewel are being quarantined there. In an interview on SBS News, the cruise ship performer complained that her and fellow passengers were being treated like “criminals”.
“We are not allowed out of our rooms, even with masks and keeping a 1.5 metre distance. We are not allowed to open our doors except to get food. We are not allowed to get any fresh air and the windows do not open,” she wailed.
I’m not sure whether Ms. Hammond is aware that everyone in Australia–whether staying in a luxury hotel or not–is currently meant to be practicing social distancing. And few upscale hotels I have visited recently have windows (I presume there is aircon).
“Those in isolation say it’s not a holiday”, reported the BBC. Did anyone truly ever expect it would be? Sure it must be frustrating being pent-up in a sumptuous hotel, as the NSW state Premier Gladys Berejiklian admitted. Sure, the current hotel guests don’t have the use of the spa and rooftop swimming pool. But truly, anyone would think from the moaning about the service, that these travelers were staying in hard labor camps instead of hotels. There are much worse places to be. Try a refugee camp for a start.
“This is about human rights”, professed “lifestyle coach” Jessica Pinili to her Instagram fans, on her return from Bali. I guess she’s never heard of Nauru where 1,400 people are being held in an Australian offshore immigration detention, at high COVID-19 risk according to experts.
Thousands of Australians currently under hotel quarantine have all been promised three meals a day. Swissôtel is reportedly providing “some shopping requests, medical services and rubbish and linen collection,” according to the SBS report.
Many of the objections have come down to the food quality the inmates (OK hotel detainees) are receiving. That situation has improved since hotels were given the nod to allow guests to order takeout, and have it delivered to their room.
Still, the perceived primadonna and entitled behavior from some quarters has left many fellow Australians aghast.
When model Lara Worthington tweeted on behalf of her mother, about the lack of 5-star service she was receiving at a Sydney hotel, she met with angry reactions all-around. Mostly from readers who feel the attitude flies in the face of Australia’s rallying together and “fair go” ethic.
Here’s a small sampling of the thousands of replies:
- “I am begging you not to complain about the accomodation! There are Australians far worse off who have a lot less than you do. You will manage.”
- “Umm this looks very much like The Urban in Newtown and this is the vibe of the hotel. It’s industrial and has exposed beams etc. as part of its decor. Stop trying to make it look worse to sell a story.”
- “Seriously?? So maybe she should have come home earlier. I have no sympathy … You take what you get and just because she’s your mom doesn’t mean she is entitled to 5-star service.”
- “This is close to the most obnoxious thing I’ve ever read throughout this pandemic.”
- “I’m currently trying to figure out how to isolate potential cases in a town where there are 10 people to a house. I’m not sure the average Australian has much sympathy for this complaint here when others in much worse condition aren’t being given the same opportunity to isolate.”
The cringe-worthy comments have left many angry:
“What they don’t have anything better to whinge about than the free food?” says one Sydney friend. “Meanwhile we’ve all gone from having full time jobs to two days a week. I’m appalled at the attitude.”
Others have moved to quell the bad rap being given to the quarantine hotels. “Get off your high horses,” Brisbane resident Fiona Renton told ABC News. Admittedly she said the meals at the outset were a little “grim”–but the room is “beautiful”.
Others are putting their hotel time to good use. Angela Nguyen was in Singapore when Australia told travellers to return home. She came prepared with her own personal supply of goodies to the Hilton Sydney, where she is continuing to run her lingerie business, between self-taught Mandarin and Italian lessons. The sore lack of “decent quality food” on day 1 has significantly improved she says.
Then again you wouldn’t expect a culinary nirvana in quarantine would you. Think again … Australian “celebrity chef” and TV host Lyndey Milan found the time even to whine about “carb loading” at the Hilton.
Her inappropriate comments have “Living It Up At The Hotel Quarantine” and “pink champagne on ice” refrains ringing in my ears. I guess Singapore’s example of quarantine “with sea view and room service” at Shangri-La’s sumptuous Rasa Sentosa Resort is a hard act to follow. As Bloomberg reports some residents in Singapore are also getting the hotel treatment.
A far more valid criticism about hotel quarantines points out the risk to residents, many of them elderly, who live in some of these hotels. Apparently in Sydney they were not warned of the new potentially COVID-19 infected arrivals, which nonetheless is giving the beleaguered hotel industry a much-needed cash injection.
One ABC reporter whose trip to a family wedding in Peru was rudely derailed, describes his gilded 5-star “prison” existence, though still manages to bemoan that “it’s not exactly a holiday”. That after highly recommending the frills of an InterContinental Sydney quarantine: “The beds are great, the internet fast and we have a view of Sydney Harbour most people can only dream of.”
So what is there to complain about?
Those travelers being looked after by the Federal Government should thank their lucky stars. Anyone arriving in Australia’s Northern Territory, has to cough up $2500 AUD for the hotel bill themselves. And that includes visitors from interstate not just overseas.
Meantime other countries are picking up on the hotel quarantine initiative, as they toughen up lockdown measures. Malaysia, which has extended its so-called “movement control order” until mid-April, has just swept in hotel stays for returning travelers. Though it would seem that–on top of the typical Asian hospitality they are being treated to–people are receiving it much more graciously too.
“So comfortable, got aircon, Wi-Fi, queen bed, TV, individual toilets, food provided. All are free,” tweeted a Malaysian researcher at the University of Nottingham, “I’m proud of this country.”
I have three decades of experience as a journalist, foreign correspondent and travel writer-photographer. Working for print, digital and radio outlets on four continents, I am also a veteran hotel industry reporter and author of travel guides and cultural histories to Australia, France, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and Borneo. Very often on the road between my Paris and Australian bases, I write for Forbes with a globetrotters perspective and newsy edge on travel, culture, hotels, art and architecture. My passion is capturing the distinctive people, places and events I encounter along the way, both in words and pictures. I hold a degree in Professional Writing from Canberra University, an MA in European Journalism from the Université Robert Schuman Strasbourg, and am a member of the Society of American Travel Writers. A love for my wild home-island of Tasmania fuels my commitment to sustainable travel and conservation.
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