Managed Isolation Quarantine

Not the view I expected from a break in New Zealand!

The UK is operating a hotel-based isolation system for arrivals to the UK from certain countries and I thought it might be useful to give my own impressions of living in quarantine.

Last year we had bad news. One week after cycling all around Lake Taupo, a total of over 150 km, our brother Alan, who had been living in New Zealand for many years, had contracted cancer.

He had suffered from cancers over the years, and at first we – and he, I think – thought this was just one more of those forms of the disease, one that would cause disruption to his life, but not something that would be actually life-threatening. At least, not in the short term. It was an annoyance, and life would soon return to normal. We were wrong.

This was a much more aggressive cancer, one that would not respond to medication or surgery. In late October we learned he had days to live.

I am fortunate to have two other brothers – and we are all close. In a matter of days tickets were booked, quarantine in a managed facility arranged, and my wife drove me to Heathrow to catch a flight.

Except that Sunday we were not to be allowed on a plane. There was one piece of paperwork we had missed. Although the airline staff were symathetic, the New Zealand authorities would not let us board. We were turned away.

Knowing our brother had days to live made our predicament all but intolerable. But with the assistance of staff at New Zealand’s immigration services – and our gratitude cannot be overstated – we managed to complete all the relevant paperwork. No rules were bent, none broken, but – more importantly – no obstacles were dropped in our path. The NZ staff were unfailingly understanding and helpful, and the following Wednesday we flew to the other side of the world.

Landing was a relief after some 27 hours on aircraft, all the time wearing masks, but it took time, while we waited on the plane, to get the airport cleared ready for our arrival.

From the plane we went to a queue, each of us socially distanced, and went through passport control, immigration and customs, before we were reunited with our luggage, and could leave the airport. At no time were we allowed to deviate from the paths we were directed to.

We were taken by coach to the Pullman Hotel. The coach was a large-sized standard version, with a door at the front and a second half-way along the side. Plastic sheeting separated passengers from the masked driver. Passengers were not allowed to use the front door, only the middle one – no one entering New Zealand was allowed to use public transport. Who could think that would be a good idea? 

The Pullman is a large convention centre, with pleasant rooms and views across to the water but for us it this was not to be a holiday location. We were greeted by tall metal fencing, which was removed by men in camouflage uniform while the coach waited, and which was closed again behind the coach. We passengers were told to remain in our seats, and a very pleasant Air Force officer and health official gave us a short talk on security.

Managed Isolation and Quarantine centres, MIQs, were designed to isolate all arrivals to the country. Everyone, no matter where they came from, had to prove that they were not intending to stay, and had to pay in advance the over NZ$3,000 for accommodation, food, and testing while staying there. Certain exceptions were allowed. I believe returning NZ citizens had their quarantine covered by the government. But there was no leaving the hotel, no wandering the streets, no fraternizing with the staff of the hotel or the military personnel guarding the country from us.

We were not to wear masks other than disposable, standard versions. We were not to get to within two metres of other visitors. We were to use hand gel at all possible opportunities. We must wear shoes when leaving our rooms. There was no dining room – food would be brought to our rooms for us and left outside the door. Alcohol was restricted to one bottle of wine, or three 50ml measures of spirits, or four bottles of beer per day. It has to be said, that this is more than any of us needed – but the restriction rankled even so!

As brothers we were allowed to congregate within our own bubble in one or other of our rooms. We were also permitted to leave our rooms for exercise. This involved going downstairs to a small, enclosed yard area, roughly thirty metres square, in which inmates were allowed to walk around, two metres apart at all times, to prevent our expanding too much. In my case this exercise failed utterly. No talking, no dancing, no jogging or running, no singing – only walking, at the same pace as everyone else. 

And so we entered our new existence. It was, needless to say, a strange environment. My brothers and I all live in countryside. To be detained in a building, surrounded by uniformed guards, speaking to no one outside our little family bubble, was odd. To the amusement of my brothers, I developed a possibly unhealthy fascination with the port and six massive cranes which were just visible, perhaps a half mile away. That was my view. I took several photos of them during our stay, and even a couple at night.=

This was been an interesting experience, but one made considerably easier by the staff.

The actual isolation centre is run by the NZ Air Force, but the staff were the employees, I believe, of the Pullman Hotel. They were unfailingly cheerful, friendly and understanding. Not only that, they went out of their way to make our stay there pleasant. At the half-way stage, when we had already spent seven days here, we received cards celebrating the fact that we were half way through. On my birthday I was surprised to receive a knock at the door, with two members of staff presenting me with a cake, candle, card, and best wishes from the hotel. On another day, I received a bottle of Arepa, a “Nootropic Brain Food” drink, which they wished would help me with my next novel. All little kindnesses which were unnecessary, but hugely appreciated.

During our quarantine we were checked daily, questioned about symptoms we might have experienced, and had our temperatures checked. On the third day and the twelfth, we had tests for Covid with long sticks up our noses. My sinus was still bruised two days later – and yet I feel only sympathy for the staff running the tests. The nurses, so we were told, must have that same test every week.

And so, on Friday 13th November, we were released. It was fourteen days to the hour that we had landed. We had been able to hold FaceTime meetings with Alan twice daily – he was too tired for more than that – and I think these meetings, and the knowledge that we had flown over to see him, made him hold on just that little longer. 

We left the Pullman after thanking the Air Force and hotel staff. Again, they could not have been kinder or more understanding. After we had fetched a rental car to drive down to Wellington, a very broad Air Force officer motioned me away when I attempted to go and help fetch our luggage. He brought it to us outside – in a rather brusque manner, I thought. It was presumably so that we wouldn’t return into the hotel’s lobby and potentially infect it. 

He carried our bags to the car for us, and quietly said, “Mate, we know about your brother. We really hope you get to see him.”

And now, the UK is implementing a similar quarantine system. But this is not a “Managed Isolation” quarantine. Many passengers will land at Heathrow and take public transport from there. Not all are to be isolated. So passengers who want to evade the £3,700 charge may travel from, say, Portugal to Spain or France, and then take a separate flight. For the quarantine to be effective, it has to cover all passengers, as it does in New Zealand. 

The other thing I would say, is that the limits on alcohol in the New Zealand MIQ was not really restrictive, but it was enough to make sure that people did not get ridiculously drunk and then go walkabout in the hotel, where they could well infect others. There was enough for boredom to be allayed, but not enough to make inmates riot. Because there is that risk. It was an unpleasant experience to be locked up in a building, not allowed to go out for any reason other than a little exercise at the speed of the slowest walker. And there were some seriously slow walkers there. 

Another aspect that did reduce tensions was the kindness and understanding of all the staff involved. It made a huge difference. 

We left Auckland and drove south for a day, reaching my brother’s holiday home in a wonderful town called Martinborough. The next day he arrived, and we four brothers had our last reunion for the following ten days. After that, we had to return home, and sadly Alan died a couple of days after our return. 

Alan was a proud Kiwi. He loved his adopted country, and it rewarded him with a good life, a wonderful family, and a huge number of friends. The main dying wish he laid on us, his brothers, was to make it clear just how helpful all the New Zealand officials, hotel staff, Air Force personnel, and the others we met around his home had been to us. 

Comments
2 Responses to “Managed Isolation Quarantine”
  1. DDechen says:

    If only the US could do something so sensible! I’m sorry for your loss.

    Like

  2. Jack Eason says:

    Reblogged this on Have We Had Help? and commented:
    Michael goes to New Zealand…

    Like

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