Covid 19 coronavirus: Jack Tame – My experience in managed isolation

OPINION:

One person from my plane tested positive for Covid-19.

We knew pretty soon thereafter. The day three test results came back and everyone in our managed isolation facility got a phone call telling them to stay in their rooms until further notice.

No walks in the car park. No trips to the nurse. The poor soul who tested positive was picked up and taken to JetPark in Auckland. The staff called us a couple of hours later and said we were good to resume our normal schedule.

I can’t say how typical my experience of MIQ was. People in different facilities in different cities have different experiences.

I was at The Distinction hotel in Hamilton, and my experience throughout the two weeks was that the system in that facility was extremely well-organised. Despite the fact everyone when I was there was from the same flight… the hotel divided us into different groups, just as it does when people from different flights have to be separated.

Every day, our dinner bag had a little piece of paper with the next day’s schedule. It would tell you what time your group could go for a walk, and what time you had to go and see the nurse to have your temperature taken. The idea was that the groups didn’t cross over each other. Despite living alongside them for two weeks, I wouldn’t recognise the vast majority of people who flew with me back home from the United States.

A couple of days after I arrived, I felt a bit phlegmy. This isn’t the sort of thing I would usually burden you with, except that it was interesting to go through the experience in an isolation facility. Basically, it was the sort of sickness I would usually expect after a month of crazy work, two elections, no sleep, and travel around the world.

Nonetheless, I told the nurses, and they immediately put me in isolation. For two or three days, I wasn’t allowed to leave my room for anything. A nurse would come up, in full PPE, accompanied by a soldier, to take my temperature and check in on me. Even though I tested negative on my day three test, I wasn’t allowed to have any washing done or leave my room until my symptoms had gone and the medical staff were satisfied.

How did I pass the time? Was it intolerably boring? This is the first question everyone asks. For me, the answer’s no. I had a bit of work to do, but in two weeks. I didn’t actually get half of the stuff done that I’d been planning.

I didn’t get through half of my reading or watch half of my shows. And I was never bored. Part of that, was the MIQ kept us pretty busy. Each of our groups was assigned two one-hour walks in the carpark every day. As well as that, you could go for a run in the morning, and at a different time every day you had to go and visit the nurse and have your temperature taken.

So, with three meals, on a typical day, my schedule might go like this:

6.30am: Wake up. 7am: Run in the carpark. 8am: Breakfast in my room. 10am: One hour walk in the car park. 12.30pm: Lunch in my room. 2pm: Visit to the nurses. 4pm: One hour walk in the car park. 6pm: dinner. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

The walking space was definitely a major bonus of our hotel. I reckon there were people from our flight who probably left isolation fitter than when they arrived. I didn’t, because I was eating everything.

The food was plentiful, hot, rich, and tasty. People in my group ordered in Domino’s pizza and KFC. The first week I got a delivery from Countdown with chocolate and lollies. The second week I was feeling a bit guilty, and got fancy yoghurt and fresh blueberries instead.

Again, I can only speak for my experience in MIQ. My auntie is in isolation in a fancy downtown Auckland hotel. She doesn’t have opening windows and she has to catch a bus to go for a walk every couple of days. That’d be tough. But here are my overall observations:

When an MIQ facility is well-organised just as mine was, there aren’t many chinks in the armour. Yes, there will always be little failings, but at no time in my two weeks in Hamilton did I see any mistake or error that I thought could spread the virus.

You’d hope that by now, most MIQ facilities had their processes down. That being said, it’s a blunt tool. One of the nurses said to me she was surprised we only had one positive case on our flight from the US, given how many cases they have over there.

So do we need to be treating people from Australia or the Covid-free Pacific Islands the same way we’re treating people from a place with 150K cases a day?

I don’t think so. I think we need to consider a more nuanced system for people arriving, depending on where they’ve come from. It absolutely makes sense for Pakistani cricketers or other people arriving from hotspots to go through the full two week MIQ.

I also think the vast majority of people going through MIQ, should feel, and do feel grateful. I know there been stories in the news with people moaning about the food and this and that. In my experience, we were treated generously and sensitively. None of us wanted to be there, but everyone got on with it and honestly – it was fine. The time went much faster than I expected.

Once the Day 12 test results were back, we only had one more night. We woke up early, each group visited the nurse, and we were allowed to sit in the massive atrium of the hotel and remove our masks for breakfast. It was the first time I’d seen most people’s faces.

The soldiers, nurses, hotel staff all said goodbye. We were the 27th flight they’d had through isolation. On Thursday morning at 7.35am, exactly two weeks since our plane landed in Auckland, we climbed on a bus and left the hotel. A Tainui representative gave us one final farewell: “Welcome to the team of Five Million.”

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