16-22 November: Survival learnings for Howard Springs: We’re released!

Author: Mrs A

Location: Block D1, Donga 6A, Howard Springs, Northern Territory, Australia

And so we have finally reached the end of our two week sentence, and are about to board a flight to Sydney. woo-hoo!

Time during this second week seemed to crawl by in contrast to the first, Sunday seeming never to arrive. We can hardly imagine how the poor people in South Australian quarantine felt last weekend when, upon reaching their final day were told a staff member had tested positive for Covid-19 and they therefore had to quarantine for another two weeks in another hotel! No wonder one of the ‘inmates’ had a severe panic attack and ended up in hospital! The deadline of our flight is all that has got us through this period.

We had our final Covid-19 tests on Thursday morning, the rather unpleasant stick down the throat and up the nose. Give we have heard nothing about those results, we are told that ‘no news is good news‘, so can assume we are negative for the virus. I’d be rather worried if we tested positive, given we’ve not been anywhere for two weeks!

Early morning pilates is interrupted for a C19 test

So as we prepare to depart this facility, I have been thinking about what advice I would share for someone coming to serve time here at Howard Springs resort in the coming months. I share some tips under the following categories:

  • Exercise
  • Mealtimes and food
  • Laundry and cleaning
  • Social contact
  • Entertainment

Exercise – given the revised instructions that you cannot leave your deck (unless you’re going to the laundry or the rubbish bin), it’s pretty hard to get much exercise done, but it is possible. When the internet is working, it is possible to stream classes online (I have done a couple this way, also using my phone as a hotspot), but I wouldn’t rely on this. Primarily we have played pre-recorded classes which do not rely on being online or do our own thing.

You’re allowed to order goods from BigW and KMart, which will be collected by workers from Howard Springs and delivered to your room – we ordered two yoga mats ($10 each), giving us a clean space to exercise on outside. There are regularly bush fires around the area, and the deck is always covered in a thin layer of brown ash. You’ll notice that in no time when you look at the soles of your bare feet – you’ll be pleased to have an easily cleaned rubber mat as a safe haven to stand on!

Mealtimes and food: 24-hours worth of food is delivered in bags at around 6pm – that is a hot meal for the evening, breakfast and lunch for the following day. The food here is not too bad considering they are catering for around 1,000 people, workers included. They manage quite well with dietary needs (I am dairy-free), though the food choices are not necessarily what I would eat. Monday night is chicken parmigiana for the ‘normal’ people, so I get the vegan version – polenta with vegan cheese. I have honestly never eaten anything so unpleasant! The lunches are usually some kind of salad, and unfortunately the leaves do not survive the night, and by the following day are limp and unappetising. Thursday night is chicken and prawn laksa night – everyone’s favourite!

Top left:Food delivered to your doorstep around 6pm Top right: Mr A’s Wednesday night pasta night Bottom: Tuesday night’s delivered meals for the next 24 hours – barramundi curry for dinner

I recommend supplementing with your own food. You’re allowed to order deliveries from Coles supermarket with a minimum order of $50. Given it is an alcohol-free facility, endless cups of tea (black tea bags and instant coffee is provided, we brought our own herbal teas) and plain cold water get a little tiring, so we ordered sparkling water, fresh lemon and a couple of bottles of Diet Coke to add some variety. Food wise, we bought some fresh mangos, avocado and a bag of ‘superfood coleslaw’ (chopped beetroot, kale, cabbage, carrot and others), plus some chilli sauce and mayonnaise to add some flavour – each room has its own fridge. Of course there were a couple of packets of crisps and the odd bar of chocolate too, but we didn’t go too crazy on the junk food!

A good mix of healthy and unhealthy food purchases for our stay

Plates and cutlery: reading in advance we saw that all the food comes in takeaway containers with biodegradable cutlery. We decided that as food is such an important part of the day while here, we would bring our own cutlery (knife, fork and spoon each) and plastic plates and bowls. These add a little more normality to our eating. We use our Stanley mugs for water rather than the paper cups. They keep cold drinks ice cold for a long while. Mr A has his new Leatherman wave multi-tool so we have a knife, and we brought along a light. flexible chopping board for preparing those juicy mangos. Apparently you are not allowed to buy knives in your shopping once you are here.

Not fancy or expensive but do the trick and give us a little smile each meal time

Laundry and cleaning: Over the two weeks, we were allocated four days where we could do our washing. Mark and I made sure we took advantage of them all, just for the exercise – though some of our neighbours just washed items in their bathroom sink and dried items draped over their balcony rail. There are plenty of washing machines and dryers, plus a rotary washing line. Washing powder is provided in your welcome pack.

There are no clothes pegs provided, so we brought our own. We also brought a pegless washing line from our camping kit to stretch out over the deck to dry underwear, towels and so on.

Top: an approaching storm hastens the bringing in of washing off the line Bottom left: the washing-drying machine bank – tip – put powder into the barrel rather than the powder tray Bottom right: bring pegs for the washing line

Cleaning: On arrival you are provided with a welcome pack with antibacterial surface spray, plenty of disposable cloths, bin bags, soap and other toiletries, plus bucket and dustpan and brush. What is not provided is anything for dish washing. We brought a little pot of dishwashing liquid, a sponge and a tea towel.

Social contact: When the internet is working, it’s great to be able to chat with friends to pass the time, even if they are making you jealous with their freedom to roam! While we cannot move around our courtyard and socialise with neighbours, we do make sure to have a chat where possible. Mark’s totted up hours of conversation with Lloyd in the donga opposite me discussing topics as diverse as music, archaeology, travel and history.

We’ve set up a messenger chat group with two girls also in our block, Claire a super smart doctor, expecting her first child, and Bridie who has been quite unwell while here with ulcerative colitis which has resulted in her spending a few days in the Royal Darwin Hospital. Being able to remotely check up on each other has been great, keeping spirits high and sharing stories. We’ve even played a version of online Pictionary (Gartic.io) which has given us a few laughs.

We’ve suggested to the quarantine director that they set up an official Facebook group for new arrivals, and they have now confirmed this has been done for future quarantinees. This should help the right information get out there in advance and offer a moderated platform for asking questions and sharing information.

Entertainment: Each room comes with a TV with all the free-to-air terrestrial channels including digital radio. There are HDMI and USB ports, so if you have a Chromecast device to stream to, you can use that. What you can’t use is the quarantine internet for streaming – not only is it not reliable enough, but it requires a log in via browser, which is not possible on the Chromecast. The only way you can stream to your TV is using your own mifi device. We brought ours over from the UK which has a Vodafone sim with roaming enabled. Unfortunately the signal is also very weak, so it’s just not been good enough to use. The signal works between two rooms (when it is working).

I recommend just downloading content to your tablet or laptop whenever the internet is working, and watch via that.

Bose Speaker – we have a Spotify subscription and music has been our saviour from isolation. We take it in turns to use it in our room.

Don’t forget to bring your Australian charging plugs or a plug that converts your international plug to Aussie – it’s amazing how many people do forget, and it’s not possible to share items or buy any once you are here. We have plugs with multiple USB ports as well.

Another fine Northern Territory sunset

Routine helped us get through the day – starting with our pilates, followed by showers, lunch, then an afternoon of reading, researching or writing, before dinner arrives, sunset enjoyed and an evening of downloaded entertainment, inter dispersed with chats with friends and family around the world.

For me, especially, the nights seemed so long. I write with blurry eyes having had two weeks of jet lag, of insomnia and broken sleep, never achieving more than four hours on the trot, despite resisting the temptation to nap during the day. That has been my greatest challenge, and something I hope stops once I am back in Sydney. Mark tells me his conscience is clear, allowing him to settle into his usual sleep patterns really quickly!

Perhaps wine is the answer? I shall discover tonight!

WE ARE RELEASED!

Woo-hoo! We are released!!!

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