Spontaneous applause broke out in the cabin around me when the last Qantas flight from Santiago landed in Sydney on Sunday afternoon.
After three weeks in Chile — two of them spent trying to get home as the global coronavirus pandemic escalated — I felt a sense of relief as the plane’s wheels hit the tarmac.
But there were more difficult times to come.
Today, I woke up in a room at Sydney’s InterContinental hotel.
I am among the first to be quarantined in hotels as part of the Federal Government’s new measures aimed at stopping the spread of coronavirus.
My room at the InterContinental is comfortable. (ABC News: Jarrod Whittaker )
As the plane’s wheels rolled on the tarmac yesterday afternoon, I switched on my phone and saw stories of cruise ship passengers comparing their isolation to prison.
The social media comments were equally strong.
Some said those quarantined in hotels were “entitled”. Some said a trip to the Christmas Island detention centre was in order.
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The truth, as with most things, lies somewhere in the middle.
Our room at the InterContinental Hotel is extremely comfortable.
The beds are great, the internet fast and we have a view of Sydney Harbour most people can only dream of.
The view across iconic Sydney monuments from the room is not half-bad. (ABC News: Jarrod Whittaker)
On the flip side, it’s not exactly a holiday.
We can’t leave our rooms. That’s fine for me and my partner, but concerns me as a parent.
Our daughter is entering what is essentially her third week of a month-long quarantine.
We don’t know when she’ll be able to go outside next — something we were looking forward to about home isolation in Australia.
Our other issue, the absence of a laundry service in hotel quarantine, has been fixed by a good old-fashioned return to hand washing.
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Our isolation instructions made it clear conventional clothes washing was not an option. (ABC News: Jarrod Whittaker)
I set off on March 7 from our home in regional Victoria, embarking on a trip Chile and Peru for a family wedding with my partner and our four-year-old daughter.
When we left, toilet paper and hand sanitiser had just started disappearing from the nation’s shelves.
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A week after we arrived in Peru, the Government closed the borders.
My brother-in-law’s wedding in Santiago, the reason for our trip, was cancelled.
Suddenly things went from a relaxing holiday to a frantic effort to get myself and my family home.
We rescheduled our flights and when they were cancelled, we booked new ones.
But we were told we had to stay in Santiago for two long weeks of quarantine before we could go home.
During those two weeks, we’d only leave our apartment in Santiago to pick up supplies at the supermarket.
People grappled with diminishing supplies in the supermarkets, but the calmness of Chilean shoppers contrasted with the videos of Australians fighting over toilet paper I saw in social media.
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The biggest concern at the time was the looming deadline of Qantas’ suspension of commercial flights at the end of March.
We lived in fear about a complete lockdown of Santiago or that the cancellation of our precious return flights would leave us stranded.
@JarrodWhittaker: There’s been some interest about what life’s like in hotel quarantine. I’m hoping to give you an insight into what it’s like. So, for insight here’s breakfast on day one. @abcnews @abcsydney
In the end, Santiago only went into partial lockdown and we had enough notice to relocate to a hotel near the airport before we flew home.
It was while we were there we learnt all people arriving in Australia from overseas would need to quarantine for two weeks as soon as they landed.
Which leads us to the InterContinental hotel.
My hunch is whether hotel quarantine is difficult or not will come down to the individual.
The more introverted, indoors-y types (I include myself in this group) will probably manage just fine.
The more extroverted or those with special needs could find it difficult.
And, despite the view, we’re really, really looking forward to getting home to regional Victoria.
Jarrod Whittaker is a journalist in the ABC’s Gippsland newsroom.
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