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All You Must Know About Institutional Quarantine For Overseas Travel – My Recent Story

Posted: March 28, 2021

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I travelled back from Dubai in end February 2021, and here is my story of following Institutional Quarantine rules while returning to India.

The Covid outbreak and the lockdown period have definitely changed our outlook and perception on a lot of things as we know today. This applies to even the simplest of chores that we are familiar with. Be it the way we eat, sleep, step out of our homes, and the way we travel.

Needless to say, we have to live with Covid for some time until everything gets sorted for good.

Now, coming to the real reason I am penning this post down. Consider it a small effort to raise awareness for everyone who wishes to travel abroad, especially to the Middle East.

Flying back to India, during COVID

I planned a trip to Dubai in December 2020 and well, it was definitely a trip to remember and reminisce about.

Getting to Dubai was a pretty straight-up affair without any hiccups, and my main challenge was the return flight back home.

Here’s my experience that I’ve wanted to talk about.

So, I left Dubai on 18th February. It was a late-night flight and since I was traveling with Emirates, I had dropped my baggage and checked in 24hrs prior to the flight.

I had taken the RT-PCR Covid test (you need to mandatorily take this test within 72 hours of your flight) days prior to my flight, and filled the Air Suvidha form online.

Important: Don’t step into the airport without your Covid test and Air Suvidha form. The reference number you get from the Air Suvidha portal is mandatory for the ground staff to issue you your boarding pass.

The steps I had to go through

I got my boarding pass the night before and passed immigration without any hassles.

People were being called to board the flight as per their seating zones (C, D, E, F, etc.) to avoid overcrowding.

After boarding the flight, we were given a self-declaration form that has basic details that you need to fill (name, age, address, passport no, etc). But, if you have already filled the Air Suvidha form, you won’t need this.

The flight wasn’t packed and hence there was enough social distancing amongst everyone. I would say, my flight ensured all basic Covid guidelines.

The flight took off at about 9:50 pm and reached Mumbai before time (the flight was supposed to reach Mumbai at 2:15 am, but reached at 1:40 am itself). Hats off to the pilot, his commitment, and punctuality.

The ordeal starts from here on!

Once you step out of the flight, you’ll be asked for your boarding pass.

Be ready to show your boarding pass and passport every now and then (this is a pain).

You’ll then be asked for the self-declaration form that was handed to you on the flight, you can go through a separate channel if you have filled one online (there’s a separate queue for the same).

Once you clear the immigration, baggage checks, baggage claims, and so on, you will need to stand in separate lines designated for quarantining passengers who are traveling to different states.

Picking an institutional quarantine hotel

All Mumbaikars were asked to head to the Mumbai counter to select the hotel they would quarantine in for the next week.

Again a huge line and believe me, your patience is tested here.

By the end of this ordeal (which took more than 2 hours), I was dehydrated and in desperate need of water. God bless the guy at the counter who asked me to leave my baggage for a while until I got some water for myself from the vending machine.

Finally, when it’s your chance, you’ll be given a list of hotels that you need to choose from.

This place is extremely chaotic and nobody were then really following any sort of social distancing at all.

People would try and stick to you along with their baggage, thanks to the never-ending sea of travellers and them not having a care in the world for basic Covid precautions.

I opted for a hotel that was close to my home and most importantly that fell within my budget.

Once you have selected the hotel of your choice (there’s a list of 2 stars to 5 stars hotels to choose from as per BMC guidelines), you need to call on the given number and ask if the rooms are available for quarantine. I luckily got one immediately.

Once you have figured out the hotel, you need to tell the authorities your destination and you could be again asked for your passport and boarding pass here (your hotel name would be written on this).

Be ready to dance from one corner to the other and it’s going to remind you of Govinda’s dialogue “Khudko Mughal-e-Azam humko Anarkali samajhliyo ho kya bey Kitna nacha rahe ho”.

You’ll then be sent to the area where you usually find prepaid taxis and so on.

A scary state of affairs for women travelling alone

Now, you need to stand in another queue to get through this.

Once it’s your turn, you will be asked to present your passport and boarding pass to BMC officials, who would jot down the details before you are taken to the hotel on the BEST bus.

A fare of Rs 50 will be charged for the same. The bus itself is quite comfy and you are not stacked here with multiple people. This much is at least ensured.

My parents came to meet me (they were worried as to how things would go and also since it was quite late when I arrived) and I was lucky enough to be able to give them some baggage because carrying everything to the hotel wasn’t feasible.

I put my things down and sat comfortably. My only goal was to reach the hotel as soon as possible. The entire process had taken about 3 hours! Phew.

And then I realised that I was the only lady on the bus who was ferrying 5 men (including the bus conductor and his helper).

While I didn’t bother about it much, it is a cause of concern. You are on a bus with unknown people and it’s the middle of the night. This can be scary for some.

I was in constant contact with my family and friends throughout the bus ride and was also vigilant to make sure I reach the hotel safely.

Personally, there needs to be a lady constable assigned to every bus traveling with female travellers or it would be better to have “women-only” buses plying to respective routes for safety concerns, especially for flights that land after 10 PM.

DON’T try to skip institutional quarantine

After all this, I finally managed to reach the hotel at 4:45 am, where some basic details were jotted down and I was asked to leave my passport and boarding pass with the hotel for the next 7 days (yes, you need to hand over your passport so that you don’t run away in the middle of the night).

Once, I reached my room, I heaved a sigh of relief and I could finally freshen up and sleep for a few hours after the painstaking ordeal I had at the airport.

Personally, I would say, don’t try to skip institutional quarantine. There have been instances where people have tried taking the easy way out. BMC was not kind to them. No one would.

I understand that it’s an added expense because you need to spend another 20-30k on the stay, and moreover you don’t get to see or your family for a few days.

Remember, you need to pay for the hotel stay and the Covid test that would be done on the 6th day of your stay.

Here began my journey of Institutional quarantine

I was prepared for it even before I stepped out of Dubai.

I had even joked to my friends about it being a Big Boss-like experience. However, I still remained apprehensive until I experienced this on my own.

Since, you’ve heard so many stories, articles about Institutional Quarantine, you really don’t know what to believe or leave. As I had a firsthand experience about everything, it’s easier for me to tell everyone what it actually feels like, and what you must expect.

So, once I reached my hotel room which was small, yet tidy and pretty, I wanted to take a good warm bath and sleep, and that’s exactly what I did.

The first day went by just sleeping and eating, quite literally. All I did was listen to some music, relax, eat some good vegetarian food, and just loitered around in the room in my nightwear.

Bear in mind, if you are claustrophobic, ensure that you choose a room that has a window. Mine didn’t but I was okay with it.

My parents had sent my laptop which made life better.

From the second day onwards, I began doing short courses that would help in my practice as a nutritionist and by the end of the quarantine, I had finished three of them.

Passing the time wasn’t a problem at all

I sketched, grooved to the tunes of some amazing songs (music was my constant partner), danced alone, read books, constantly updated my daily routine on Facebook stories, played dress up (did some makeup and experimented with my clothes), took numerous selfies, sang to my heart’s content, did nutrition sessions, spoke to my friends, meditated, wrote down my experience, ate chocolates (yes, I am a nutritionist and I love chocolates), pampered myself by doing a mini facial in the hotel itself, prayed, and slept like a baby.

During my time here, the hotel staff proved to be an absolute boon. Right from the room service, to getting meals on time, they catered to everyone to the best of their abilities.

The BMC has directed most hotels to provide 3 meals (all vegetarian) for international passengers who are in institutional quarantine. To be honest, I was bored eating the same vegetarian meals each day, and hence towards the end, I requested the hotel to allow me for some home-made meals and non-vegetarian food.

I avoided eating outside food, to minimize contact and to remain in good health (I really wanted the tests to come out negative and there’s no way I wished to risk my health). Even If had to order something, I called for it from the hotel itself.

On the 6th day, my Covid test was done and fortunately, the test results were negative and the next day I was allowed to go home with a home quarantine stamp on my hand.

Also, I finally got my passport back. Yippee. I could finally head home to my family and beloved room.

So what did I learn, and how do you get through institutional quarantine?

The 7-day quarantine period went by pretty quickly and believe me, it was like a mini-vacation for me.

While the idea of staying cooped up in a room all alone, without the chance to step out may sound like a daunting task. It needn’t be so. Keeping yourself occupied here is the key.

Do things that make you happy and stay positive throughout your journey. Stay in touch with your friends and family and let them know how’s your day going. Make a plan for how you want to spend your day. I even took out some time and made diet plans for my clients while quarantining. There’s no mandate against not working during the quarantine.

Each day came as a blessing and I practiced gratitude which was one thing that kept me going.

Remember to-

  • Stay Kind
  • Perish any negative thoughts in your mind by keeping yourself occupied
  • Stay in touch with family and friends. All of us have a smartphone.
  • Have a routine that you can follow.
  • Work out if you can. Physical activity can help lower your overall stress levels
  • Do things that excite you like a hobby or something that could further your aspirations.
  • Listen to some calming music
  • Don’t overeat or load your system
  • Keep your medicines and multivitamins handy
  • Inform the staff if you are uncomfortable with something.
  • Practice gratitude daily.

Image source: byakkaya by Getty Images Signature from CanvaPro

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A Nutritionist, Clinical Dietitian, Speaker, health/fitness blogger, online show host, menu planner, menstrual health,

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