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Coping with quarantine

8 Mar 2021

Based on a decision of the Supreme Committee tasked with tackling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Civil Aviation Authority announced mandatory institutional health isolation for all arrivals in the sultanate through all borders at their own expense starting Monday, February 15, at midnight. 

While the directive on institutional quarantine has boosted hotel occupancy, it has also prompted cancellations or re-booking of tickets to later dates. 

The father of a 14-year-old boy cancelled their short visit for a medical consultation to the southern Indian state of Kerala owing to the cost factor. “Institutional quarantine when we return from India and the cost of multiple PCR tests was adding up to quite a bit. I was forced to reconsider our visit and drop the idea now.” 

Besides the additional expense, some who underwent institutional quarantine have also expressed reservations about the procedure on grounds of the stress it causes. An Indian lecturer of a college in Muscat who returned from the USA last month, bemoaned the mental stress of her seven-day hotel quarantine, and the visit to a hospital at the end of it for a PCR test, removal of electronic bracelet and fitness certificate. 

“The isolation experience depends on one’s mental strength. Despite planning the day out with online college classes, meditation and exercise, I was not comfortable at all, for reasons including hygiene, like using the bathroom without cleaning for seven days,” the lecturer said. 

Not being able to maintain the hotel room temperature to her comfort, slow Internet speed and apathy of hotel staff added to her stress. “Every time I called room service, the hotel staff addressed me as quarantine guest. That was unpleasant; I felt the staff was insensitive. They made me feel like I am untouchable. These aspects may be small for some, but it matters to me.” 

In her case, the lecturer noted, it would have been easier to isolate in her two-bedroom apartment, where she lives alone, with no worries for getting infected or infecting anyone.  

What added to her distress was having to pay for a nine-day stay instead of seven that she had booked.  “The hotel sold me a seven-night quarantine package, but seven nights was not enough due to my late-night arrival from the airport. The express PCR test takes at least 12 hours and another couple of hours to get the fitness certificate and removal of the electronic bracelet. All of this needed another day. So, though I booked a seven-night package, I end up paying for nine days,” she informed.  

Another expat who arrived from India after the implementation of institutional quarantine, likened his seven-day hotel stay to being in prison. “It was challenging to stay in the room locked up.” 

He was, however, pleasantly surprised by the ‘smooth’ conduct of the PCR test and removal of electronic bracelet. “One of the authorised hospitals did the COVID-19 test at the end of the quarantine period in the hotel. Once the report came out negative, the electronic bracelet was removed on the hotel premises, too.” 

His quarantine period is over, but not his worries. He now fears the cost of the hotel quarantine will be deducted from his salary.  

For Pakistani national Ghulam Abbas, his institutional quarantine in Muscat posed no problems. The fact that the hotel apartment he checked into had no restaurant proved to be a blessing in disguise. This allowed him to arrange meals to be delivered from a Pakistani restaurant of his choice.  

“The hotel cost might be a concern for many, but the authorities are implementing institutional quarantine for a reason. People should take it seriously and follow the quarantine guidelines responsibly,” Abbas said.  

There are others like Abbas whose institutional quarantine was uneventful. Still others have taken advantage of the time they got to themselves.  

Abdul Aziz al Shehi, who checked into a hotel in Khasab on returning from Bosnia, used his time to pursue art. “It was an opportunity to create some digital artworks on my iPad. I also watched movies and exercised. I enjoyed my hotel quarantine.” 

According to mental health specialist Dr Amira al Raidan, the challenges posed by self and social isolation – the disconnect from family and friends – require mental resilience to cope with while remaining productive.  

Head of Mental Health, Department of Non-Communicable Diseases, MoH, and senior medical officer of Addiction Unit at Al Massara Hospital, Dr Amira advises following a set routine and maintaining a diary to manage time and stay motivated during institutional quarantine. 

(Text by Syed Fasiuddin) 

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