Maria Eugênia OliveiraTue, 2 March 2021, 12:40 pm
Brazil is one of the UK’s designated red-list countries. There are 33 places on the list, and anyone arriving from one of them must isolate for 10 days – and pay a lot of money to do so.
I had to go home to see my family, for personal reasons; but, after the first couple of days in Sao Paulo, I heard the news about the mandatory quarantine. The rules were coming into force in the UK on 15 February – my flight back to London was the day after, and I would arrive home on 17 February.
After I heard the news, I was really tense about what would come next – not least because I was missing my husband and son, who’s nearly three.
I tried to call the airline to move my flight forward to 13 February, so I could arrive home before the rules came in, but there was no availability; so I had no choice but to carry on with my journey and pay £1,750 for the hotel package. My family were in London, and hadn’t come back to Brazil with me. I had no other option than going back home.
The changes were obvious as soon as I arrived at Heathrow airport. I was separated from the other travellers, and there were signs showing us where to go if we were arriving from red-list countries. In total, there were 11 of us sent to quarantine; all but one coming from Brazil. Then we were taken to the Heathrow Radisson Blu Edwardian Hotel, which is a four-star hotel – not as bad as I thought it would be.
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For me, the hardest part was arriving in London – I remember having the feeling of, “thank God I’m coming back home, finally” – but then I remembered that I still needed to isolate for 10 more days, far from my family. It felt frustrating being so close and so far at the same time. In total, I spent 29 days away from my little boy.
Still, once I was at the hotel, my room had a nice bathroom; the bedroom had a big wardrobe with hangers, a hair dryer, an iron, two single beds, a TV, fridge, kettle – I really can’t complain.
Included in the hotel package were three meals a day, which they would deliver to the door – all the food was in takeaway boxes, with disposable cutlery. There was also soft drinks, water, coffee and teas and two PCR swab tests for Covid-19; the first to be taken on our second day, and the second to be taken on the eighth day of our stay.
There were always two options for meals – one vegetarian. Breakfast was always around 8.30am, lunch around 1.30pm and dinner around 7.30pm. We could have food delivered, from places like Uber Eats or Deliveroo. For alcohol or something extra, the hotel sent me a link for me to input my card details – they also left a £50 credit.
I tried to keep up a small routine – just as I used one to keep me going at home, during lockdown – but I had to do it in a much smaller space. Still, it kept me sane.
After breakfast, I’d have a shower, put on some fresh clothes and tidy up my room, as the house keeping service was not allowed due to risk of infection. Then I’d read, watch a TV series and stay connected on the internet. Social media helped me, in a way; and Instagram became the place where I could share my hotel experience with others.
At the same time, friends, family and even strangers were talking to me every day; saying kind words and giving me emotional support. Some people who were talking to me were also in another quarantine hotel – and we were sharing our thoughts, feelings and experiences about it. There was even a girl that found my Instagram profile who was staying at the same hotel as me, so we could talk to each other about our rooms, food and Covid tests.
We were allowed to go out of the room to get some air, for 15 minutes, twice a day, always accompanied by security. Windows could be opened, which I did a couple of times a day, to change the air of the room. My window was very large, but unfortunately the view was of the back part of the hotel. At first I didn’t like it, but by the end I was grateful that I could have some privacy with the curtains open; could enjoy the blue sky and some sunlight.
In a way, it made me think about what it must be like in prison; and how it must feel, being locked in a limited space for a long time. I couldn’t imagine living like this for more than a year. It would be terrible.
On my second day at the hotel, my husband gave me a huge surprise – he sent me a big suitcase with chocolates, coffee capsules and a coffee machine; bottles of wine, magazines, my notebook, my favourite robe, my favourite granola, some dairy-free yoghurt, a card and a picture of the three of us that I normally keep on my bedside table.
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If at any point I felt sad, depressed or down, I was surrounded by love from the people I care about. It really helped. Even some friends that I haven’t seen in a long time sent me messages, and now we’re looking forward to getting back to “normal” so we can catch up again and have some drinks – so in some ways, being in quarantine helped us reconnect.
My husband and my son called me every day via FaceTime so we could feel closer to each other, and this was important for my son so he could see me and try to understand that I was coming home soon. I don’t think he really understood what was going on.
But mostly, I used the time apart from the rest of the world to think about what I should be thankful for, in my life, instead of complaining. I’m not a person that usually complains, and I do always try to see things in a good way.
So, I used this strange 10 day period to sleep a little bit more (other mothers will know what I’m talking about!), read good stuff and watch some movies that most of the time I can’t watch, because I’m always super tired.
Every day, when I first woke up, the first thing on my mind was: “OK, that’s one day less to go – and if you did it yesterday, you can do it today”. It felt strange, when I finally got out.
After being apart from a lot of things for 10 days, it makes you see things from another perspective. You come out stronger, in a way – and after a year of seeing so many people suffering due to this virus, you realise things could be much worse than being locked in a hotel for 10 days.