On the third day of quarantine, a nice nurse gave me: a swab of my nasal cavity. Coincidentally, it was Christmas too.
Along with nearly 6,000 other New Zealanders who returned, I spent the holiday in quarantine at a government hotel.
As a dual citizen, I began planning my escape from London in early November, eventually managing to line up flights and a place in isolation for two weeks from December 22nd.
Spending only Christmas and New Year’s Eve was a small price to pay to return my family to relative freedom – I didn’t think twice.
Upon arriving at Auckland Airport, after a grueling three-hour journey lasting a total of 24 hours, I was transferred to the Novotel Ellerslie bus: my home for the next fourteen days, until I could obtain a Covid certificate.
According to a Facebook group that shared data on facilities across the country, I was lucky. Not only did I have all-day access to the exercise parking lot and fresh air (supervised by the military), the food was said to be excellent.
As proudly proclaimed in the welcome pack, handed in at check-in: “There is no other quarantine like ours!”
In fact, after I was placed in my room — mostly in bed, with a window overlooking the military patrol — a sheet of paper remained in front of my door, giving me a choice between a whole four options for Christmas lunch (and one of the two sides). ).
I opted for eye fillet noodles and then spent the next 48 hours wondering if I should have gone for the turkey.
It’s amazing how quickly I sensed a knock on the door three times a day, announcing a brown paper bag containing breakfast, lunch, or dinner. By the second day, I was walking around the room like an animal in a zoo.
What next: carvery or Covid test?
The countdown to Christmas also helped mark the passage of time. Twice, opening the door for me to grab the food delivery, I came face to face with my neighbor across the hallway in Santa’s hat.
Some people brought Christmas decorations with them to display on windows or doors. We are also invited to fashion them from paper bags, for the “festive artistic” competition that will be judged on Christmas.
And after lunch, we were told to watch out the window to catch a special visitor patrolling the perimeter: “Remember that Santa Claus also requires you to keep two meters away safely!”
For me, Christmas dawned too early, my jetlag was not alleviated by days of inactivity in my climate-controlled room. Under a mask, I headed downstairs to do a few loops of parking, along with (but at least two feet apart) a few other early risers. My running tracking app recorded 5km (3 miles) as a tightly wound scribble.
Then he returned to the room to wait for my carver or an invitation to go down to the Covid test – whatever had happened before.
On top of the daily temperature check by the door-to-door nurse (an interaction that quickly made me expected as a rare way out for my extraversion), we were told we were expecting two Covid-19 tests on days three and 12.
On the eve of Christmas, a positive Covid result was announced via the PA system in our rooms, which required a “deep cleaning” of the common areas – dispelling any illusion that this was just a particularly lazy hotel stay.
A snapshot to remember
Invited to the conference room for my test, a nurse made almost alien by PPE stuck a swab in my nose on last season’s soundtrack and Mary’s Boy Child. A military guard at the door, who told me to step back when I went to show him my passport, was wearing a ceremonial head covering.
Not for the first time, I was struck by the surrealism of resolute Christmas merriment in the midst of a pandemic dystopia.
The embodiment of this was the photo booth frame at the front desk, decorated with sequins and the government’s white and yellow Covid-response colors, labeled # covid19 and # selfisolation. (And below it is an inscription that says, “PLEASE DO NOT TOUCH THE FRAME.”)
But, despite the inherent strangeness of this endeavor, I was unexpectedly touched by the collective effort made to make quarantine feel like Christmas.
Novotel’s “welfare team” gave us a puzzle of 1000 pieces (“quite a challenge” in 14 days) and reminded us to take a lot of photos on Christmas: “Although strange, it will surely be remembered. ”
Really, I still couldn’t quite believe I had gotten here at all.
In the 24 hours before my departure, the situation in England deteriorated sharply, the government abruptly withdrew Christmas balloons in response to the rapid spread of a new variant of the virus.
Every time I checked the headlines while I was in transit through Doha, then Brisbane, another state banned arrivals from the so-called “plague island”. New Zealanders who were counting down the days until departure found their plans once again thrown into uncertainty.
So as I pulled out my cracker and toasted with a mug of red wine, I counted my blessings. Among them: a parking lot for running and beef from a paper bag.