John Parkinson’s quarantine story

It’s 8.00 in the morning when I turn on my laptop and open Zoom. “Good morning”, John Parkinson, Professor of Social & Political Philosophy, says to me, “I just started cooking dinner for my kids”. While it’s 8.00 (in the morning) in Maastricht, it’s 16.00 (in the afternoon) in Brisbane. The story of how John eventually got to Australia is not your typical (Dutch) quarantine story.

As the coronavirus kept haunting our societies, John knew he had to get on a plane to Australia as quickly as possible – otherwise he would not be able to see his kids this year. After seeing several flights being cancelled, John began to question whether he would make it to Australia after all. The biggest problem was that most transits, such as Singapore and Dubai, were being closed down. Flying to one of these places was fine, but getting from there to Australia was impossible. At some point, one airline was offered a touch-and-go situation in Singapore: no one was allowed on- or off the plane, it simply refuelled and from there continued its journey to Australia. It was a big disappointment for John when this flight was cancelled as well.

A few days later, John picked up the news that Qatar Airways had made an arrangement with the Australian government. Two seconds later, John had booked himself a flight from Frankfurt to Melbourne. He wasn’t worried about getting the coronavirus during his flight. “There were only about 50 people on this huge plane, so everyone had a row to themselves. Passengers were all masked, and the flight attendants were in full gear – wearing suits, face masks and goggles.” Despite all those precautions, almost all international arrivals still had to go in quarantine for 14 days, and it was quite an experience.

“The minute we stopped at the gate there were announcements from health officials, temperature screening, forms to fill in, and questions to answer.  We were escorted into buses and brought to one of the eight quarantine hotels in Melbourne.” Upon arrival at the hotel, John did not receive a key to his hotel door. “Because hey, you weren’t allowed to go anywhere anyway, right, so why would you need a key?” Security guards outside his hotel room made sure that John and 400 other passengers from other flights would not escape from their rooms. Food was delivered in a plastic bag on the doorknob.

What kept his mind off of things during his 2-week quarantine was teaching. He taught his last class of the day from midnight until 2.00 in the morning. But as the period was slowly coming to an end, John’s workload decreased and he was more aware of his situation. John especially longed to go outside. He managed to negotiate his terms with a security guard and he was allowed to take a 10-minute walk up and down an alley behind the hotel where the garbage bins were.

“Well you know, it could have been worse”, John says, “but it wasn’t exactly fun. The good thing is that I was released from the hotel – after coronavirus tests that came out negative – and arrived in Brisbane on my son’s birthday”.

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