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Despite nearly five months since the UK government introduced mandatory hotel quarantine for passengers arriving from red list countries, guests say the system is disorganised and chaotic.
Frustrated travellers who are spending their 10-day quarantine period in cramped rooms that cost £1,750 ($2,409), complained of a lack of basic supplies and equipment, such as a fridge and soap.
Elaine Cook, who arrived in Birmingham from Dubai on June 29, said travellers need to brace for an "uncomfortable stay".
“My husband and I went into this situation with a positive mind, but what has really got to me is that as each day goes by it gets worse,” she said.
“We have accepted the situation now, we’re just dealing with it, but my daughter is struggling.
“She is 22 months old and her routine has been completely rocked due to incompetencies.”
Ms Cook, 38, a classroom support teacher who is relocating from Dubai to the UK with her family, said the designated time slots for food delivery are never followed and the options are “unhealthy and repetitive”.
Breakfasts consist of cereals and the lunch and dinner options are usually cold pizza, curry and microwave burgers. There are no options for children and several requests for vegetables were denied, she said.
The family of three have been squeezed into a twin room with two small beds and a cot. They are hoping to release on Sunday after their latest negative PCR result, which came through on Wednesday.
“The menu is really poor and there are no real options for children,” she said.
“We have to place a request for food, but if we tick the 12 noon box it usually arrives an hour later.
“My baby is 22 months old, she has to eat regularly and she doesn’t understand waiting.
“On several occasions we have had to fight for a bottle of water, it’s ridiculous. They expect us to drink tap water from the bathroom. We paid £2,400 for this.
“We didn’t expect a true hotel experience given the circumstances but what we have got has been unacceptable. I want to warn other families of that. It’s been an exhausting nightmare.”
Helen Hope, a marketing strategist, also left on an Emirates flight from Dubai on June 29. She is settling back in the UK after 10 years in the Middle East.
Before she travelled to the UK, she had two bookings for hotel quarantine in Birmingham cancelled without explanation.
When her third booking for Holiday Inn Express was confirmed, she was charged twice.
Upon arriving at the hotel she said it was clear it was not "geared up for a long-term stay" because there was no fridge, no bath and dusty cobwebs on the window.
Speaking from her hotel room, she said she felt strongly about not travelling for holidays and was happy to follow government advice and hotel quarantine.
“I still have several days to go but this is what I’ve learnt so far. The disparity between allocated hotels is significant," she said.
“Some hotels look perfectly acceptable whilst others, like mine, are run down and not equipped for such long stays.
“If you are planning to do the quarantine, bring your own supplies. A dinner plate, cutlery, ear plugs, an extension lead, condiments and any other other personal luxuries, like instant cappuccino sachets, will help make your stay more bearable.”
Ms Hope kept a daily diary for The National of her first six days alone in hotel quarantine.
I landed at 12.30pm. It took more than two hours to pass through customs and reach the hotel. Staff were disorganised and didn’t appear to know what was going on. There was a lot of waiting around. I arrived at the hotel at 2.45pm. The security asked for proof of my booking and negative PCR results. I was given a printed menu and was told to scan the QR code each day to place my order. I was told my room would not be cleaned. However, towels would be changed every three days. I was also informed that I could have two 20-minute slots per day to walk in the car park, at the hotel’s discretion.
I arrived at my room to notice there was no wardrobe or storage space, no fridge or bath and there was only a metre-wide walkway around the edge of two single beds. I also noticed large stains on the carpet and sheets, thick cobwebs on the windowsill and a layer of dirt on top of my kettle. The room did not feel properly sanitised.
The menu has seven permanent options of curry, two pizza slices and two additional options that change daily. This is usually fries or pasta. There is only one healthy option of grilled chicken salad on the menu.
I woke at 4am. Breakfast arrived at 9am, even though I had selected 8am. I was given a brown bag with a cold, dry, sausage sandwich (no condiments) and a warm, fermented fruit salad. I also received a warm carton of milk and cereal.
A lady I met on the plane over sent me some images of her breakfast. She is at a different hotel. She received a freshly made English breakfast with eggs, bacon, beans and sausage served on a plate with cutlery. The difference in hotels is now apparent.
Lunch time arrives and I have realised that whenever a meal is ordered there is something missing.
I decided to place a Tesco order of dry foods, as there is no fridge in the room to keep anything fresh (something that would make the stay much more bearable).
My PCR test arrives with instructions and I’m told once complete to put it in a box outside my door.
Today is the weekend so I woke up a little late. I decide to move one of the beds out of the way, standing the frame and mattress up against the wall to make more space. This allowed me to move more freely.
Meals were late again and my Tesco order still hasn’t arrived. The lack of control is beginning to bother me.
The noise from the guards outside my room is getting worse. I’ve complained to the hotel, IHG Hotels and CTM. Nothing appears to be happening. My PCR test results are still not back and I’m worried.
I’ve called reception and they have sent me a second test as they think my results may have been lost. I can hear other guests outside complaining now too.
48 hours later and my results arrived today and I’m negative. I’m concerned about catching Covid-19 in the hotel because of how unsanitised it feels. I’ve heard the guards coughing, which makes me feel unusually anxious.
The food is still bad, and my Tesco order has now gone missing, and so I order Subway for the third day in a row. There are only seven options on Deliveroo near my hotel, and this seems to be the healthiest.
The noise from the guards talking outside my room kept me up again last night. I decided to go for a walk today to get some air. It took several attempts to call reception as nobody ever picks up. I waited over an hour to get a free time slot. I was allowed 20 minutes. The guards timed me and stopped me when this time was up.
Feeling a little deflated today. Trying to stay busy with work but the lack of control and movement is making it hard to focus. My Tesco order has arrived, which feels like a lifeline. I ordered fruit, salad, cheese and dry meats. I also ordered condiments so that I can add these to the plain salads that the hotel has on offer.
I’ve been monitoring a Facebook group called ‘UK Quarantine Support Chat’ which updates me with information on the other hotels. I’ve now met four other Holiday Inn guests from the group that are staying here too. We’ve started a WhatsApp chat group called the ‘Holiday Inn-mates’ which offers some light relief. We exchange tips on how to get what we need from the hotel staff. One guest has even managed to negotiate some cutlery and a plate for me. The camaraderie is helping me through the experience and reassuring me that I’m not the only person finding the hotel standards sub-par.