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  Opinion   Columnists  02 Aug 2021  Kishwar Desai | In UK quarantine, Indians pariahs even though they give hotels boost

Kishwar Desai | In UK quarantine, Indians pariahs even though they give hotels boost

Kishwar Desai, is the chair of the Arts and Cultural Heritage Trust, which is setting up the Partition Museum at Town Hall, Amritsar.
Published : Aug 2, 2021, 2:25 am IST
Updated : Aug 2, 2021, 2:25 am IST

These hotel rooms cost as much as a room in the Taj in India, with meals thrown in

Since only UK residents are allowed into the country as of now, all of us would have been much safer and better off at our own homes as we could at least get some fresh air and fresh food, and be not forced to meet total strangers every time we stepped into a corridor. Representational Image. (Twitter)
 Since only UK residents are allowed into the country as of now, all of us would have been much safer and better off at our own homes as we could at least get some fresh air and fresh food, and be not forced to meet total strangers every time we stepped into a corridor. Representational Image. (Twitter)

The first rule about quarantine in the UK is that it is linked to the country you are coming from. While those coming from the EU and US will soon be able to waltz in without “q”ing:  arrivals from India send off red alerts — “Red Zone” entrants, all.

Because of the Delta variant (which by the way is now in every country, including the UK and the US) arrivals have to be rushed straight into a quarantine hotel. Treated more or less like pariahs, despite the fact that we are bringing revenue to the country because we are now occupying hotels which would otherwise have been empty — we are locked in and not allowed to even step out of one tiny room for 10 days.

 

The only time we can go out is when accompanied by a guard (yes!). We are then permitted, with masks to walk around a car park for 20 minutes, twice a day, and then escorted back like prisoners when our time is up! Otherwise all meals are delivered to our room and Amazon or other stores are happy to deliver what we want. Many have been vocal about the discrimination — but we must be clear that these lock-ins are not based on race.  

Though, yes, the hotel we were locked into could have been in the heart of Delhi. Quite cleverly, the designers of this quarantine obviously decided that people of colour needed to see more of their own ethnicity — so no one could complain the British were treating the ethnics badly by locking them into rooms. Everyone, right from the porter to those delivering food to our “guards” — were all either from Asian or African descent, and some of them seemed pretty fresh arrivals.

 

There are many reasons however, to worry about this forced quarantine: to begin with, while we are thrilled to at least be able to travel home to England — staying in a small room subject to air conditioning 24/7 is the worst kind of punishment. Since only UK residents are allowed into the country as of now, all of us would have been much safer and better off at our own homes as we could at least get some fresh air and fresh food, and be not forced to meet total strangers every time we stepped into a corridor. I probably physically saw more strangers in “quarantine” than I had in my self imposed “bubble” during the whole past pandemic year.  

 

Quarantine also means that apart from the hotels doing well, all those who provide services are getting employment thanks to us. Since we are not allowed to come in unless we have booked a hotel — and paid for it — certain industries have taken advantage of the situation. As each one of us was escorted by a “personal” guard whenever we took a walk — security agencies were obviously doing very well.

But more troublesome were the food providers. If they had raided every railway station in the country and served us that so-called cuisine, it could not have been worse. This was food meant for 12-year-olds, as it was usually over salted or contained some buttery, floury dessert. There was always a mandatory bag of chips, and a “sweetened” drink. And everything wrapped in lots of cellophane, and plastic bags, contrary to the advishe of all climate change pundits.

 

One unforgettable meal (a personal highlight) comprised of potato chips, potato salad, broccoli with potato mash and a very buttery chicken pie. Butter and potatoes were the dominant theme. And loads of salt. And this is the land of Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsay! I was almost driven to use a pigeon to send “rescue-me-with-a-fish-and-chips” note to them.

By the way — the hotels are not cheap. They cost as much as a room in the Taj in India, with meals thrown in. So what is it about “quarantine” that makes it possible for people to be treated in this way? Nothing, as far as I can see. In fact, if we just sat on a sofa and ate salt, butter, potato, flour and drank sweetened water — we may be safe from Covid, but we are certainly going to develop high cholesterol, heart disease and clogged arteries.

 

But desperate times lead to desperate solutions. If this was the only way we were going to be able to come back to London — then so be it. Yes, Indian friends are shocked, wondering why we did not use “influence” to get out of this quarantine completely. But a rule is a rule we thought, and it was best to follow it.

I am now learning about countries that allow people to quarantine at hotels and resorts of their choice. Even then, honestly, this “ q-ing” makes no sense, apart from bringing in revenue for an almost dormant hospitality industry. It would have been better to let us go home, where we would have spent 10 days, in sheer bliss — not having to go out or meet anyone. But to be imprisoned in a hotel in London for 10 days, when you have a home to go to — is a rather bizarre option.

 

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