Covid-19 hotel quarantine with son teaches mum some things are so precious

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When a pupil at her son's school contracted Covid-19, ST correspondent Venessa Lee found herself having to quickly pack for a stint in quarantine.

SINGAPORE - Our route to quarantine was a topsy-turvy ride of emotions.

When I heard that my son's primary school had two Covid-19 cases, it was easy to stifle the stab of dread I felt.

After all, with thousands of pupils, Covid-19 could conceivably be held at arm's length.

But the next morning, last Friday (May 14), a representative of St Stephen's School called and said that my son Micah, 12, had to be placed on a leave of absence and isolate himself at home because he had been in close contact with someone with Covid-19.

At 8pm that night, a Ministry of Health official told me Micah would have to be placed under a quarantine order in a hotel. An accompanying adult had to go with him the next day.

Frantic packing ensued. By Saturday, my son and I were ready to be summoned at dawn, with six bags and Netflix newly set up on the iPad.

But no call came until 4pm on Saturday, when an official called to ask about allergies and dietary requirements. He had no other information.

By Sunday night, my husband and I had deluded ourselves that Micah, who was symptom-free, was probably doing fine and we could bumble along in self-quarantine. After all, he was using his own set of cutlery and we were mostly communicating by shouting at one another through his closed bedroom door.

But the Covid-19 management machinery runs remorselessly and we were told at 9.30pm on Sunday that we would be picked up. My younger daughter burst into tears and I felt the same way.

By 11pm, we were bundled into a white shuttle bus where the driver and escort both wore full personal protective equipment.

I felt distinctly germy in the presence of people wearing a plastic gown and a shower cap. I wish I had thought to buy medical-grade gloves instead of Pringles, but we were soon decanted at Mercure Singapore On Stevens, located in Stevens Road.

I had been pondering the piecemeal nature of our contact with the authorities over the weekend: Why did each person who called me not seem to know what the next step was, for us? Is modern life and its mosaic arrangements so complex that few can join the dots?

But when we opened the door to the hotel room, relief flooded in. The two single beds were cosy and our invisible host generous.

Our cosy little hotel room where we would be spending our quarantine. ST PHOTO: VENESSA LEE

There are two boxes of 24 mineral water bottles each. Staying hydrated until May 26, our last day of quarantine, will not be a problem.

I automatically started taking photos of the room and the bathroom because in another reality, we could have been on a staycation.

Fifty per cent of our water bottle stash. ST PHOTO: VENESSA LEE

As the days rolled on, that sense of being on a staycation only intensified, surprising me. I hadn't expected not to feel like I was in jail.

The prison-like elements are real, of course. Since Sunday, I've woken up every day thinking I would go mad if I couldn't open a window. Alas, the only tool I have is a plastic fork. I've even started noticing the bulbul with a yellow bottom that likes to perch on the ledge of our floor-to-ceiling window - recalling the 1960s movie, Birdman of Alcatraz.

Just like in prison - one imagines - routine is everything. The meals are balanced if unexciting: rice, fruit, vegetables, meat - salt of the earth fare. We take and record our temperatures three times a day.

One of our "prison" meals, which we eat while overlooking an unused pool. ST PHOTO: VENESSA LEE

Although our hotel room is small, we overlook a 35m swimming pool that is always empty because of Covid-19.

I try not to think about the coronavirus cloud hanging over everything. On our sole permitted excursion outdoors on Monday, we were taken to a Covid-19 test centre in Bishan, where Micah had a swab test. Mine will come later. We caught sight of some of Micah's friends and deduced that Covid-19 travels by school bus.

We learnt on Wednesday that Micah was negative. The anxiety I had tried to keep shut in a box in my mind dissipated. But the pandemic grief that whips round the world encloses us all. It is sad to know that other children are suffering.

On Wednesday night, for instance, we learnt that a third St Stephen's pupil has been infected.

Strangely, it is the pull of daily life that palls, perhaps because I am living only half a life here in confinement.

Micah and I don't mind working and learning from home with our laptops in bed. Yet the frequent notifications and check-ins from school - like every pupil would have had after nationwide home-based learning began on Wednesday - to keep up with assignments, felt like an insistence on normality when nothing was normal.

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Keeping in touch with people has become a chore. It's not as if I'm launching my own mask-sewing business so I don't want to announce our quarantine on Facebook (although the national newspaper is okay).

In the same vein, I don't have the energy to deal with friends who ask how I am. I don't have any updates. Neither do I want to talk about my wee bit of stress when the rest of the world is in Covid-19 Mark 3.

I relinquish my pandemic exercise habit, which had led to a 1kg weight loss in recent months - sadly, this is an achievement in middle age. Plans to do YouTube tabata with Micah have been officially jettisoned because of the lack of space.

Despite my churlishness, what sustains us is the undeserved kindness of friends and family. We have just received a marble cheesecake by delivery. It tastes of chocolate milk and friendship.

A marble cheesecake we receive from a friend. It tastes of chocolate milk and friendship. ST PHOTO: VENESSA LEE

Quarantine teaches me that there are some things so precious - like my son's health - that I don't want to discuss them. I keep my mind trained, instead, on the reassuring dullness of my uneventful days.

Yet as I hug the child I have with me at night, I cannot wait to feel the warm arms of the other child waiting for me at home.

SPH Brightcove Video
The virus has infiltrated Singapore's tuition centres, and infected students bring it home and to their respective schools. An expert calls it “the perfect storm”.

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