QUESTIONABLE FOOD AND A FEELING OF CLUSTERPHOBIA: THIS IS MY QUARANTINE EXPERIENCE

Recently, I travelled from Dubai to London; a choice that caused me to quarantine in a hotel for 10 nights since the UAE is a red-list country. 

Before returning to the UK, I filled out the Passenger Locator Form (PLF) and booked my quarantine hotel package, which cost £1,750. This included the hotel room, 3-course meals every day and two at-home Covid tests on days two and eight. The hotels are randomly allocated, and you only discover which hotel you got once you’ve booked and paid. My hotel was the President Hotel in Russel Square.


The hotel quarantine experience

When I arrived at the President Hotel, I noticed multiple guards stationed at the elevators. Later, I discovered that they are stationed on every floor and exit, which felt a little claustrophobic.

The room itself was simple. Regular amenities that are standardly offered at hotels, like complimentary tea and coffee and fresh towels, were provided and I could ask for more if needed. Although hygiene necessities such as toothbrushes are not usually available in hotels, I was surprised that this had not been provided given that I was quarantining and not holidaying.

Just like in a Category C prison, we were allowed fresh air privileges in the hotel’s small garden, escorted by security. On my first day, I jumped at this opportunity. However, on the second day of my stay, I was contacted by NHS Test and Trace informing me that I had been in contact with someone who had tested positive. Due to the timing, I assumed it was somebody I interacted with at the airport or in the hotel. Luckily, I was only expected to quarantine until June 23 — the same day as my official release from the hotel. Nevertheless, the experience made me apprehensive about leaving my room as I didn’t want to be forced into a longer quarantine period.

The food …

My biggest issue with the quarantine experience was the food; tasteless and horrible. I am inclined to compare it to hospital food (or perhaps more fittingly, prison food). Never have I been happier for growing up in a Libyan household with an extensive spice cupboard. Not once had the chicken I was given been seasoned — even with salt and pepper! Even worse than the absence of flavour, was the food packaging. Due to Covid safety measures, food was packed in brown paper bags and small plastic containers that sucked up the moisture. Consequently, when it came to anything crispy, by the time the food reached me it was lacklustre and soggy. To give some credit, the meat options were halal even if they lacked taste.

Guests are also permitted to receive food and alcohol deliveries. My family brought me some snacks and I ordered dinner a couple of times but generally felt disinclined to keep doing this. With the cost of the quarantine package, spending more money felt like a frivolous expense.

A 10-day prison stint

Overall, my quarantine experience felt like a prison stay — albeit with WiFi access. Though there are opportunities to make quarantining more comfortable, they all come at monetary or health and safety costs that make them unappealing for guests. All of this made me question the need for a hotel-stay quarantine over an at-home quarantine, where there is less interaction with strangers.

I also wonder, is the requirement of a hotel quarantine an attempt by the UK Government to replenish lost hotel tourism revenue? A safer and more humane alternative for those arriving from red-list countries ought to exist.