The first passengers to leave the UK’s hotel quarantine system described it as like being released from prison.
Shortly after midnight, passengers who had spent the past 10 days at the Radisson Blu Edwardian near London’s Heathrow were allowed to check out.
While some left via a rear door, others punched the air before jumping into taxis.
One couple, Wagner and Elaine Araujo, said the first few days had been horrible but that they had got used to it and decided to make the most of their time together.
"It's been like a second honeymoon," Mr Aroujo, who comes from Brazil but has lived in London for 20 years, told The National.
The couple were visiting their parents in Brazil when it was added to the UK’s red list of countries considered a high risk for Covid variants.
They had to pay about £1,750 ($2,840) to stay in isolation at the hotel. They said they were allowed out to walk in the garden and had meals brought to a table outside their room.
"It's like coming out of prison. We have a taste of freedom. It feels amazing," Mrs Aroujo said.
They had tested negative for Covid, she said. The couple played cards, video games and watched TV. The first thing they intended to do once they got home was to hug their children.
"We feel proud of ourselves. It has made our relationship better," she said.
“We were OK as we were together and we made the best of it," Mr Wagner, a removal man, said. "But if you are a single person it would be easy to get depressed. It was bad at first, but then we got our room upgraded and it was fine."
Mohammed Mostafa, who travelled home from Bangladesh via Dubai, described the 10-day stay at a holiday inn as an "absolute horror story".
The 42-year-old was in Bangladesh to visit his sick mum but transited through the UAE.
"It is like a prison. I have just been waiting every day to go home," he told The Sun.
“The airlines didn’t inform us that we would have to quarantine - it was very badly organised.”
Preah Pooja was waiting outside the Holiday Inn to pick up her father Karam Chand, who works for Britain's National Health Service.
"He wants to leave as soon as possible so I am driving him back home to Cambridge tonight," she said.
“He is an NHS worker and needs to get back to work. I was here to pick him up from his flight last Monday because we didn’t realise he would have to quarantine - he only stopped over in Dubai.”
Mr Chand said the room felt like "a box with no ventilation". "I cried for three days because it was so horrible in there," he said.
Leaving the Radisson Blu on Friday morning were Norman and Ruth Conway, from Bristol, who had been forced to quarantine after returning from a holiday in Portugal. Mrs Conway said she was most looking forward to “the freedom to walk around my garden and to be able to get out of one room without having to be escorted everywhere.”
Mother-of-three Eritza East, from Southampton, said the food at the hotel had “not been that child friendly”. She said she was most looking forward to seeing her husband after seven months away.
Earlier, another guest complained that the mandatory isolation was a breach of their human rights.
One compared the 10-day quarantine with a stay in “HM Prison Heathrow”, while other home-made signs read “what a way to spend your birthday” and “next time I’m coming home in a dinghy via Dover”.
Others summed up the experience with a thumbs-down to photographers outside the hotel.
On Wednesday, police were called to the Radisson Blu hotel after some guests refused to return to their rooms after going outside for approved exercise time.
Wayne Kelly, who returned from Dubai, said the hotel guests got into a dispute with security guards. The police were called but soon left after the guests returned to their rooms, he said.
Mr Kelly said he could not wait to get home to his family.
Anyone who leaves hotel quarantine before the end of the 10 days could be fined up to £10,000. About 1,200 people are in quarantine hotels.
Another traveller, Zari Tadayon, 66, from north London, said on Wednesday she was relieved her quarantine was almost completed after arriving from Dubai last Monday.
She previously said she was unprepared for her stay and had not packed any books. “How I’m going to cope I don’t know. It’s going to be tough.”
Travellers arriving in England must quarantine in a hotel if they have been in one of the government’s 33 red-list countries – which covers Portugal, the UAE, all of South America and southern Africa – in the past 10 days.
The UK banned direct flights from those locations, so passengers must take connecting flights, mixing with passengers from countries not on the list.
The UK prime minister said last week he expects those in quarantine to be able to “cover their costs” when asked what happens if a person has to extend their stay after a positive test.
Boris Johnson said: “It is currently illegal to travel abroad for holidays anyway.
“We would expect people who are coming in from one of these red-list countries to be able to cover their costs.”