Have you ever thought about how a bird feels inside a cage? It is a random question, I know.
Animal rights organizations (e.g., PETA) would argue that birds kept in captivity may suffer from malnutrition, loneliness, and stress of confinement. From a scientific perspective, studies have demonstrated that caged birds are likely to develop abnormal behaviour patterns. Furthermore, research published in the Applied Animal Behaviour Science suggests that the wellbeing of animals is linked to their “ability of animals to adapt behaviourally, emotionally and physiologically to the circumstances of confinement”.
Now imagine, you are forced to confinement in a hotel room for two weeks, usually without access to fresh air. How would you feel physically or mentally?
This is the question I asked myself as a services marketing scholar who had to spend two weeks in hotel quarantine in Brisbane. Would I gain weight or lose weight? Would I be potentially get infected through the hotel ventilation system? When I heard that there was a positive case in Brisbane in quarantine I was wondering if this person was in my hotel. In addition to my physical wellbeing, I was concerned about my mental health in quarantine. Would I get distressed from confinement in a small hotel room? How often would QLD Health call and check up on me? I felt intrigued reading comments on social media by other travellers (aka fellow inmates) and how they were coping with isolation.
Let’s take a step back
On March 28, 2020, Australia was one of the first countries to implement strict quarantine laws using government-sanctioned hotel facilities for overseas arrivals to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Within its first year, more than 210,000 travellers have been confined for two weeks in hotel rooms in Australia. The government called the program “99.99-per cent effective” to safeguard the public against the pandemic. However, hotel quarantine is not foolproof, and there has been much criticism and investigation over the past year. For example, reports indicate more than 20 leaks. Surprisingly, Australians have not shown much resistance towards mandated hotel quarantine, whereas travellers in the UK widely complained when they were forced in hotel quarantine.
Hotel quarantine and wellbeing
While the health implications of solitary confinement have received increasing attention in criminal justice, medicine and social science, research on the health impact of government-managed isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic is rare. For example, a study published in the Medical Journal of Australia found that of 2,774 people registered in quarantine hotels in Sydney during 1 June to 30 September 2020, the most frequent diagnosis (19%) at emergency departments was related to mental health; compared to only 3.6% for all emergency department presentations in Australia. The findings suggest a greater need for increased psychological support and other services for people in quarantine. Yet, this contradicts new policies of the Queensland government that have slashed mental health support for people in Covid hotel quarantine.
Understand the stressors of before, during, and after quarantine
Hotel quarantine policies during a pandemic contribute to governance wellbeing since they influence the wellbeing of all citizens in the community. But people isolating in hotel quarantine experience a myriad of stressors that affect their mental and physical wellbeing. In the pre-arrival stage, it is the “unknown” that can lead to anxieties. For example, which hotel will be assigned to you? Where is it located? In my case, I was in hotel in the CBD which made it easy for friends to drop off care packages at the reception. Stressors during quarantine include fears of infection, the actual duration of quarantine (you must test negative to be released), lack of fresh air (some travellers in 2020 were fortunate to receive 30-50 minutes each day outside in the small enclosed underground carpark, however, this policy changed in 2021), inadequate supplies and/or information (the service for ‘hotel inmates’ is minimalistic), boredom (loss of one’s usual routine), and stress/frustration due to a sense of isolation (lack of social connections). I prepared myself for a mix of outback camping inside a hotel room, packing essential kitchen utensils (plates, cutlery) and cleaning equipment (dishwashing soap, laundry powder). And I tried to keep myself busy with daily exercise, virtual social interactions, work, and entertainment. Finally, people experience post-quarantine stressors such as financial costs and burdens associated with the quarantine stay. And it is still too early to understand the long-term effects of government-managed hotel quarantine on individuals’ mental health.
From ‘Flatten the Curve’ to ‘Let it Rip’
So where are we now, at the beginning of 2022? Is there still hotel quarantine? Does this topic even matter, now that we “ride the wave” of Omicron? … Yes, it does.
While most of Australia (except Western Australia) has eased travel restrictions over the last two months (for example, a shift has occurred from hotel quarantine to home quarantine), rules still apply for unvaccinated travellers. For instance, the COVID-19 advice for international arrivals to Queensland states “Unvaccinated international arrivals must arrive in Queensland at the Brisbane International Airport and will be required to quarantine for 14 days in government-nominated accommodation”. Policymakers should adopt a service ecosystem perspective to assess the impact of hotel quarantine, not just for the community, but for individual travellers, who may experience unintended consequences far beyond those 14 days in confinement. Services marketing research can bridge the view between public health and an individual’s quarantine experience.
See more of Sven Tuzovic’s research here.