‘On day seven a fly came in through the window. It was the closest to another living being I’d been all week’

REKA MARKOS
Hanoi, Vietnam
I’m on day 13 of 14 at Muong Thanh Hotel in Hanoi, itching to leave but also anxious about reintegrating into society after two weeks of solitude. Vietnam has been handling the pandemic really well, but just the day before I’m due to be released there’s been a breakout of more cases near Hanoi. So the safest place feels like it’s inside these four walls, yet I’d still rather take my chances outside.

The company I’ll be working for usually has two or three people to a room for $1,200, including three meals a day, two Covid tests and transportation from the airport to the hotel. For a private room it’s close to $2,000, same service. I paid for this myself, not including flights, which cost $1,800 from Dublin to Hanoi via Dubai, but there are some companies that sponsor both visa and flights.

Initially I was supposed to be sharing the room with someone I didn’t know, but their Covid test didn’t come through on time, or their flight got cancelled, so I’ve been alone – and it’s been the longest I’ve ever gone in my life without going outside or feeling human touch.

There were a few days when my anxiety was through the roof (the only part of me that left the building), and I found I was overthinking every mistake I’d made in my life

Once the jet lag wore off I was faced with the reality of having to fill the days with activities rather than endlessly napping and having sleepless nights. There were a few days when my anxiety was through the roof (the only part of me that left the building), and I found I was overthinking every mistake and bad decision I’d made in my life, with nothing better to think about.

But keeping in regular touch with family and friends – who were endlessly patient and kind, checking in, making sure I was still sane – was something to look forward to. I would message them during breakfast and then wait for Ireland to slowly wake, so we could videochat.

Another highlight was whenever my boyfriend came to visit, and I heard his voice in real life, from the street below, for the first time in 11 months, albeit that we were shouting at each other with a five-storey distance between us.

Although I found it challenging, there is a lot of peace to be found in spending time with yourself. On day seven a fly came in through the window. It was the closest to another living being I’d been all week. I read eight books, finished Peaky Blinders, wrote, played music, danced, paced, ate mashed potato with chopsticks, stared into space. I think similar measures would definitely help Ireland to curb the spread of the pandemic. A reasonable alternative would be to allow people to leave their accommodation once their negative test result has come through, rather than requiring the full 14-day isolation.

‘We didn’t realise how hard it would be never to be allowed to open any windows or doors’

NEASA NEARY
Singapore
We are a family of five – my husband and I and our three sons, aged 11, seven, and nine months – who had to move to Singapore from Malaysia in June 2020. We couldn’t choose which hotel to quarantine at: we just got told at the Singapore border that it would be Hotel Jen Orchard Gateway.

We got connecting rooms; the older two boys shared one, and my husband and I and our baby shared the other. At first it seemed fine, as we had brought snacks, nappies, games – anything we could think of – with us for the two-week quarantine. But we didn’t realise how hard it would be never to be allowed to open any windows or the doors to the corridor.

Neasa Neary with her husband and three children, who quarantined in Singapore
Neasa Neary with her husband and three children, who quarantined in Singapore

We requested a vacuum cleaner on day one – and got it, thankfully, as we could then keep the carpets in some way clean. With young children it can be a nightmare – all the crumbs, and no kitchen utensils or plates or cutlery. We had to eat with plastic containers on our knees. We ended up ordering bowls and cutlery from Ikea, as the hotel’s plastic cutlery was not easy for the kids. My baby refused to eat any of the food offered. Luckily, we got to order in food from outside restaurants, as well as groceries from supermarkets.We also had very kind friends who dropped in some necessities, which was much appreciated.

We were not tested for Covid during our stay, as that was only made compulsory in July. We had to report our temperatures three times a day to the health authorities in Singapore and to the hotel. The health authority also FaceTimed us every day to ensure we were in our room and feeling well. We had to pay a flat fee for our stay.

Ireland must bring in hotel quarantining: it is the only way to stop more virus from entering the country. The testing should be on arrival and on day 10 or 11 of the 14-day stay. It will limit travel to Ireland to essential journeys only, cutting out all the unnecessary movements currently taking place between Ireland and the rest of the world. It has to be done if Ireland is to recover from the pandemic. The quarantine is very hard with children, but it is possible with electronics, lots of chocolate and new toys every few days.

‘The police registered us, and soldiers took us to our rooms, which were guarded 24/7. We were not permitted to leave them’

GRANT HOURIGAN
Ireland
I am originally from Australia and have been living in Ireland since late 1999. In July 2020 I had to return to Australia, as my father was terminally ill. I spent 14 days in quarantine in Sydney. I was lucky that this was before you had to pay 3,000 Australian dollars – about €1,900 – for the privilege.

A police escort accompanied the military buses that took us to our hotel. The police registered us, and then soldiers took us to our rooms, which were guarded 24/7. We were not permitted to leave them. Our room was a decent size with good facilities.

We were tested for Covid on the second day and the second-last day. A community nurse called the room each day to check on us.

You had a choice of two meals, which were left outside your door, in a brown bag. When we arrived the room had 24 bottles of water in it, which was great. You could order additional coffees or alcohol from reception or via online shopping, although you were limited in what you could consume alcoholwise.

Have something to keep you occupied, such as work or a hobby; ensure you are set up with wifi; and keep talking to people when you can

Weekdays passed reasonably quickly, as I stayed on Irish time and was able to work remotely. I found that doing some in-room exercises each day – push-ups, sit-ups and so on – was beneficial. Weekends were slower, as having no work to occupy you meant that time dragged.

Setting yourself a daily exercise routine is important; also, have something to keep you occupied, such as work or a hobby; ensure you are set up with wifi, and have sufficient travel cables and connections; and keep talking to people when you can. A highlight for me was the 20-minute chat I had with one of the Irish nurses on the check-in call.

Overall it was very difficult, as I had the stress of not knowing if I would reach my home town before my father died. Thankfully I was able to get home and spend two weeks with him before he passed away, in August. Should anything happen to my mother I would face the same prospect. This is a challenge all expats are facing.I am not sure I would have the same view of quarantine had I not made it to see my father.

‘A country of six million people, crowded into an area not even the size of Co Louth, has had only 29 deaths from Covid-19’

DAVID HOLLYWOOD
Singapore
My wife, two children and I arrived in Singapore last August. After a couple of hours of polite interrogation and form filling, and being escorted to a waiting bus by masked and uniformed staff, we ended up looking out from the seventh floor of a government-sponsored hotel – not that our rooms had much of a view.

At least we knew it was a temporary arrangement that would enable us to work abroad. Quarantine can feel like being in a strangely surreal world: the journey from the airport to the city centre had been beautiful. There had been mile after mile of fabulous foliage, with trees, shrubs and flowers appearing everywhere from balconies and rooftops to roadsides and pathways. And no litter whatsoever. But we were told we’d have to adjust to no longer being free to make our own choices during our 14 days of isolation.

The starkest evidence of change was the food delivered to our door three times a day. It was so utterly different from what we’re used to, and we had no say in what it should be. Breakfast was usually bland noodles with fish or shrimps and broccoli. Lunch was rice, chicken and broccoli. Dinner was rice with spicy fish or chicken and more broccoli. Occasionally, we would be offered chicken curry at 7am, and once, to start the day, we were presented with baby octopus lurking in a forest of noodle soup. It is probable we lost weight in quarantine.

After a couple of days we learned to order out for meals that were more like what we were used to, such as burgers and fried eggs with chips – although I now find I’m indifferent to both curry and chips, foods I used to like.

The time difference between Ireland and Singapore took time for our body clocks to get used to. One of us was usually going to bed just as another was getting up.

Then there was the “Happy birthday, Mommy” experience.