Vanessa’s story: My experience in quarantine

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By Elesha George

[email protected]

A week ago, 23-year-old Antiguan woman Vanessa travelled home from France not knowing that she would have to undergo rigorous health checks once she landed at VC Bird International Airport.

Upon arrival, she was told that anyone who had visited specific regions within the last 28 days would need to have their temperature checked.

“After waiting two hours she [the health officer] let me know that they have decided to place me under quarantine at the defence force base in Coolidge,” she told Observer.

The authorities, she said, informed her that had she arrived in the country a day earlier, she may have been permitted to enter without being quarantined. But a delay had caused Vanessa to miss a connecting flight to Antigua, resulting in a two-day layover in Guadeloupe.

“I did my due diligence and tried reaching out to the consulate and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to see if there were any restrictions for entry into the country, but was unable to reach anyone, as the phone numbers posted online were out of service.

“I also checked government websites and the media to see if any notices had been issued and couldn’t find anything. In a last-ditch effort, I even attempted to email Prime Minister Browne to seek advice.”

Vanessa said she was less than impressed by how unprepared health officials at the airport seemed to be.

“Not only were the nurses not wearing any protective gear such as masks or gloves, I worried for my health and safety as they had been checking both local and international passengers coming from all over the world throughout the day.

“When I requested to wash my hands, the health officer advised me to use the hand sanitiser provided.”

The woman said that she was later detained at the airport with “very little information” about the quarantine facility she was expected to occupy.

“I have great respect for health care workers but it was quite alarming that when seeking information about the terms of the quarantine and its conditions, I was told to stop being difficult and just to comply with the measures implemented.”

When Vanessa finally arrived at the former army base, it was around 9pm.

“I asked what the rules were and if I’d be able to walk around to get some fresh air. I was told that if I wandered too far away from my assigned premises that there were soldiers surrounding the property.

“This made me feel very fearful and anxious. I was confused about what “too far” meant and what the actual rules of the quarantine were. It highlighted to me that none of the civil servants involved with the quarantine were fully informed about the government’s newly imposed policy.”

Despite feeling uneasy about sleeping at her new residence, Vanessa said she ate her assigned meal of pasta with corn beef, two pieces of plantain and lettuce, before resigning to bed.

“In my room there was only a small bottle of water, some toilet paper, and linens. I was not provided with any soap, insect repellent, or mosquito net. The room looked like it hadn’t been cleaned since the last occupant left. The linens on the bed were dirty, the carpet stained and moldy, and there were cockroaches and trash under the bed.

“The fact that I have no choice but to be placed in a situation that could put me more at risk is baffling,” she told Observer.

Vanessa said it was not until the second day that she was visited by a nurse who asked if she had been experiencing any symptoms.

“She checked my temperature which was normal and notified me that I should have been provided with a thermometer to check and log my temperature twice a day, as well as have contact with a nurse in case my condition changed.”

Vanessa posted pictures of her experiences onto social media and claimed she was warned by one of the nurses that such action was illegal.

“I know this is not true and it’s my legal right to document my experience as I see fit,” she said.

She told Observer that the reason she was so vocal about her situation is because she believes that the procedures in place are “not sufficient “to contain the spread of Covid-19.

“The government implemented these policies without adequately informing its citizens or civil servants. Other countries have implemented similar restrictions while clearly outlining policies and timelines to the public,” she said.

Vanessa’s suggestion is that health authorities prioritise solutions which are more impactful against the spread of the virus.

“I’m not confident that if I contracted the virus I would survive, given that these are their so-called preventative measures…being left alone to fend for myself in an unsanitary environment without adequate food and water. I don’t know how I would make it through without the support and care packages from my friends and family.”

She is encouraging everyone to practice self-isolation and social distancing to avoid having to go through a similar ordeal.

For now, Vanessa remains quarantined and told Observer that she hasn’t displayed any symptoms of the virus.

A Ministry of Health spokeswoman told Observer the nation was facing an unprecedented situation. Quarantine accommodation, she said, was adapted for purpose, purely for observation, and was “not intended to be a hotel”.

“The entire world is facing a crisis,” the spokeswoman added.

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