Features Australia

Prisoner diary

My time in hotel quarantine

27 February 2021

9:00 AM

27 February 2021

9:00 AM

After the long flights from London, via Doha, on Qatar Airways we landed in Brisbane on our way to two weeks’ imprisonment in a hotel. That was a fortnight ago and this is my diary of that delightful experience, brought to you by Scott Morrison with special input from Annastacia Palaszczuk.

After a lengthy processing at the airport, Australian Defence Force personnel loaded our bags under a bus (remember that fact, it becomes relevant in a moment) and some two dozen of us were shipped to one of the quarantine hotels. It was late at night. When we got to our hotel we could see police and army personnel everywhere. A seemingly senior police officer then got on our bus and made it clear we were all potentially infected. We would get off the bus one at a time. Then she left. A few minutes later she returned and added that the forms we had been made to fill out at the airport were also potentially infected. So the police could not handle them either. When each of us eventually made it to the officer collecting these forms we would hold it up to the plexi-glass and she would copy down on an identical form everything we had written down on ours.

By the time that happened we’d realised that virtually no one could do Kafkaesque bureaucracy the way an Australian state Labor government could.  Going back to disembarking from the bus, though, we did indeed have to depart one at a time. One of the first off was an elderly woman. She tried to scramble around under the bus for her luggage while eight or nine strapping male police officers looked on – I stopped counting how many there were as I was feeling nothing but disgust for these police officers. Eventually the bus driver, clearly a private contractor not linked to any powerful union, just got off his seat and went out to help her and then unloaded everyone’s luggage onto the hotel entranceway. He did this, let me repeat, while all the police officers looked on. Remember, these were bags the baggage handlers had already, you know, handled, and that army personnel had loaded onto the bus ten minutes earlier. And all the police milling about were wearing surgical gloves. I grew up in a middle-class Canadian household where the police were always held in high esteem. I’m an instinctive supporter of the police. They have a tough job. At law school I used regularly to get into arguments with my South African criminal law professor who basically saw the cops as never to be trusted and prone to evil. The performance of some of our police forces during this pandemic, no doubt at the command of a very woke set of senior officers, has left me disgusted and my opinion altered.

Anyway, my wife and I finally got to the point of being shown to our room. A police officer got on the elevator with us and our luggage. He then ordered us to face the back wall and not turn around. We got to our floor then our room, home for the next 336 hours. We were beckoned across the threshold and told we could not leave for a fortnight. That was the first night.

The next day we had all sorts of friends offer to bring food and alcohol to the hotel which, by the grace of Annastacia, is allowed to be brought up to your room. As with each day’s food, when anything comes there is a knock on the door.  We are not allowed to open the door for 15 seconds. Then we can grab whatever it is and bring it into the room. Fine. So on that second day there was a knock and I opened it to find two bottles of wine. Required medicine you might think. But I knew for a fact our friends had brought us a dozen bottles, not two. So I called down and was told the police and army rationed any and all alcohol that was permitted up to our room. Got that? They imprison us in a room we can’t leave even for a minute, in part because a bit of exercise is something the Chief Medical Officer deems unnecessary, and then they ration the booze.

I called down to the reception and asked if I had inadvertently joined the Methodist Church. The joke went unremarked. Now don’t get me wrong. The alcohol rations mere citizens are permitted by their overseers are generous enough, and beyond what we’d otherwise go through, but the fact these jumped-up prison wardens put themselves in charge of our permitted intake was infuriating. I wanted to knock back three or four bottles a day given their latter-day puritanical edicts.

Meanwhile, the hotel staff, not the cops but the hotel people, were wonderful. They did all that was permissible within tight constraints. The days sort of flowed into each other. The food came three times a day at more or less the same time. It was basically premium economy-type airplane food. Not too bad at all for the first few days; tolerable in the middle; and almost inedible towards the end.

Then there were all the Queensland Health and Red Cross phone calls asking my wife and me about our mental health. Isn’t that deliciously ironic? We’ve imprisoned you as part of our plan to destroy the entire travel industry in this country but we’ll call each day to see how you’re doing. I remained polite on the phone but whenever they called I was thinking of two explicit words, seven letters in all.

And then there’s this inexplicable fact. We had to get a negative Covid test before boarding the plane in London. That makes sense. Then they come and give you one in the hotel on day three of your jail time. Those were negative. And then we got a second hotel one on day 10. The results came in on the morning of day 11. Ours were negative again. So get this. We still couldn’t leave. We had to wait three more days and this despite the fact we would have no more Covid tests. When released we’d be able to mingle with anyone; breathe on anyone; become a parliamentary intern with all that that entails. All fine. There would be no more testing or potential impediments to leaving. Except we weren’t allowed to leave for a further 72 hours. Why? Less kind people than I might put this down to the overweening power-hungriness of officious bureaucrats – ‘let’s call it “following the science”, they’ll probably buy that’ – who are drunk on punishing anyone who dared to leave the country. You decide.

Let me end on this note. I’ve said repeatedly throughout this heavy-handed, economy-destroying governmental response to a virus that kills well under one per cent of those infected, whose median age of death is higher than life expectancy ages, and that has seen the greatest inroads on our civil liberties in two centuries, that the core problem is that those making all these calls are paying none of the costs of their rules – no skin in the game at all, as Nassim Taleb would say. So guess what happens when politicians and senior bureaucrats go overseas for work? When they return do you think that a) they too have to undergo hotel quarantine with all the plebs or b) nope, they get to isolate at home? To ask is to know, isn’t it?

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