'This is f**ked': Diary of two-week hotel quarantine hell
Nicole Mandemaker knew mandatory hotel quarantine would be no holiday but her medical mercy mission wasn't supposed to turn into a 14-day ordeal, trapped for 26 hours straight in her hotel room, charged for inedible food and where desperate pleas for exercise, toilet paper and help went unanswered.
In a stark day-by-day account of how a bid to join her dad for his lifesaving triple bypass operation became a fight to get through 14 days inside Room 1204, her quarantine diary lifts the lid on how guests had to turn to each other to survive, the brief moments shared in "the yard" - the pool area where they were taken beyond the four walls of their rooms, and how football great Wendell Sailor helped them all through despite dealing with grief of his own.
Ms Mandemaker landed in Fortress Queensland from Sydney on August 12, greeted by a wall of police and health workers at the airport.
Escorted to the bus by the Army the executive assistant was dropped off at the Next Hotel about midday.
Ms Mandemaker said she dismissed early teething problems of three hours to get into the hotel and missed or late meals and got busy applying for an exemption to reach her dad before he went into surgery.
But by the end of Thursday, serious cracks were beginning to appear.
"Breaks are supposed to be three times a day for 15 minutes. Got one of the three," her diary records.
Others were also battling. None had travelled for pleasure, and all faced their own challenges.
Across the hall were Biloela couple Glen and Lynny.
Married for 40-plus years, they had made the trip south to finally see their newly-born grandson when the borders opened, only to have them slam shut behind them.
"(They) are salt of the earth people all with their own stories of sorrow to share and being pushed to their limits," Ms Mandemaker writes.
As pressure began to build, things began to break down.
By Friday, "breaks seem optional".
"(In) the yard, people are keen for contact and to share stories."
Some don't cope.
"Dave arrested and spends night in lock up for trashing his room and is cut off from having booze delivered," Ms Mandemaker writes.
"Hotel says police responsible for breaks, police say hotel aren't passing requests through."
Ms Mandemaker said her remote office gave her constructive work to do, something denied the police assigned to the hotel.
"Police are doing it tough," she wrote.
"They do two-week shifts and have been pulled from all over Queensland (Rocky, Townsville, Cairns, Sunshine Coast) and have better things to do than babysit angry smokers."
By day five, without reliable breaks outside Room 1204, "panic sets in".
"Twenty-six hours locked up," she writes.
"I lose it and sit in the doorway with door slightly ajar crying.
"Kept company by Glen and Lynny.
"Thirty-two minutes later (after multiple phones calls by me, and Glen standing in the hallway waving his arms under CCTV), I am allowed outside (for 40 minutes)."
Tuesday is "dreary and teary" before Wednesday starts with the police hammering on the door at 12.30am for a smoke break, then again at 6.18am for a fresh air break.
Ridiculous as the timings were, Ms Mandemaker said she took them because guests never knew when they would get out again.
While it was haphazard inside the hotel, it wasn't much better dealing with the State Government outside for an exemption and early release.
"Called COVID hotline to request update on exemption, told they don't have it on file and lady who looks after requests if off till Monday (and has a massive backlog)," Ms Mandemaker wrote.
Days later, the response was no better.
"Called Covid hotline to request update on exemption - not correct department, try another they said."
It would continue for days.
By Saturday, August 22: "'This is f**ked, I can't sleep. Mental health declining.
The next day: "Stir crazy. Shed some tears."
As well as Glen and Lynny, quarantining football legend Wendell Sailor would help her through.
Despite dealing with his own grief and desperately trying to reach Mackay for his mum's funeral, Ms Mandemaker said Sailor would reach out to help anyone he could inside.
He even shot a video of support for Ms Mandemaker's dad, as well as zoom-bombing a work video conference call.
Sailor was in quarantine because he was attempting to get to Sarina for his mother's funeral.
"I cannot speak highly enough of him. He gave everyone the time of day, he was running little mini exercise groups for people in quarantine.
"He recorded a video wishing my dad well for his operation.
"In the face of his own tragedy and adversity, he listened to everyone's stories."
Despite asking for a red meat free diet because she has haemochromatosis, the cold and inedible food often included red meat, Ms Mandemaker said.
She was forced to order hundreds of dollars worth of food deliveries over the fortnight, she said.
Asked about the conditions for guests, Next Hotel said in a statement they "were wholeheartedly committed to supporting the fight in the spread of coronavirus by offering accommodation to quarantine guests.
"During this time, Next Hotel Brisbane was focused primarily on making our guests as comfortable as possible during their 14 day quarantine period.
"Queensland Health and the Queensland Police Service are solely responsible for mental health needs of quarantine guests and Next Hotel Brisbane deferred all mental health matters to both Queensland Health and the Queensland Police Service.
"As of August 28, Next Hotel Brisbane has stopped accepting new quarantine arrivals."
The Courier-Mail asked Queensland Health who chooses which hotels are used for quarantine, what checks are done on guest welfare and whether the quarantine system was working in terms of guest welfare.
They didn't answer, instead passing the questions to Queensland Police for response.
"The Queensland Police Service (QPS) and Queensland Health continue to work together with hotel management and other support agencies to ensure everyone undergoing hotel quarantine is provided with suitable accommodation," police said in a statement.
"Considerable efforts are being undertaken to ensure quarantine facilities meet the dietary and other special requirements of their guests.
"We understand the quarantine process may be difficult for some people and the State Government has made health and support services available at each hotel.
"It is up to each individual hotel to determine whether their business participates in the hotel-quarantine process."
Even when granted her freedom half a day early to finally see her dad, police had to step in to convince hotel staff Ms Mandemaker was free to go.
"Two hours later freedom," she says in her diary.
"Freedom has never tasted this good and Dad has come through.
"Dad is in ICU and I am with him now.
"Would I do this again? In a heartbeat, family is all that matters."
Originally published as 'This is f**ked': Diary of two-week hotel quarantine hell