- Wagner and Elaine Araujo quarantined for 11 days after landing in the UK the day new rules came into force.
- At the Radisson Blu Hotel at Heathrow, they washed laundry in the tub and watched 70 episodes of “Suits.”
- They left the modest twin room just once to stretch their legs in the car park.
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Brazilian-born couple Wagner Araujo, 43, and his wife Elaine Araujo, 41, had to isolate in a small hotel room for 11 days thanks to the UK Government’s order that anyone travelling from a “red list” of countries would have to quarantine on arrival to combat the spread of new variants of COVID-19.
Their trip had not gone to plan. Their return from Sao Paulo, to which they had travelled on January 11, had already been delayed by 11 days and they were apprehensive about another 10 days of being away from their four children, aged between six and 17, who were at their home in North London.
The couple travelled to visit Wagner’s elderly parents. They knew going during the pandemic was a risk, but Wagner told Insider he felt he had to.
“My parents are old and have a lot of health issues,” he said, “and I didn’t know if I would be able to spend time with them again.”
They were awaiting a new return flight when the UK government announced on February 5 that any travellers coming from any one of 33 countries – including Brazil – would have to immediately isolate on arrival.
The policy would take effect on February 15, the day the Araujos were due to land.
After the announcement, the admin took its toll on the pair. “I started to be upset about it,” Wagner said, but eventually they had everything prepared.
They landed at 11a.m. at Heathrow and went through a special lane at immigration to collect their luggage and be driven to the Radisson Blu hotel, all under security escort.
They paid £2,400 ($3,343) for a double room. The £1,750 ($2,436) mandatory cost widely reported in the press is for a single room.
Their first night was “really bad”, said Wagner, as the room received little natural light through the window that faced onto the bricks of another building.
The hotel manager moved them to a room overlooking a main road and one of Heathrow’s runways. “Every morning we open the curtains and let the light in, and it makes us happier,” Wagner said.
The days were virtually identical. Their days within the same four walls came to be structured by the arrival of meals at the door; food which Wagner said was “delicious” but sometimes came in small portions. The hotel always accommodated them when they asked for seconds.
After eating the breakfast dropped in cardboard takeout boxes by their door, Elaine would go back to sleep briefly while Wagner would exercise.
For the rest of the day, Wagner would play “Fifa” on his PlayStation 4 and watch Netflix on the TV.
They would read and play cards. Every night, the couple watched their favorite show, “Suits”. Each episode is around 45 minutes but the couple managed to get through 70 episodes in quarantine.
There were also the practical aspects of living to think about. The couple both prefer showers to baths and they ended up using the tub to wash small items and delicates in, as they were each only permitted to leave seven items of clothing outside their door to be washed by hotel staff.
Likewise clean sheets were left outside the door, and Wagner asked for a hoover at one point so he could vacuum the room.
All of this is recorded in a quarantine diary Wagner kept of their stay to, he said, “remember the experience for life and to learn something from it”.
But while Wagner and Elaine have stayed upbeat by keeping themselves busy, it has at times felt like being “in a prison”, he said.
They only left the room to go outside once. They were permitted to walk in the hotel car park but the experience of having to fill out forms and then be watched by staff dissuaded them from venturing out a second time.
“Writing about how hard it’s been to be locked in a room for 24 hours all day every day has helped,” Wagner said. “It’s like you’re not free at all and we didn’t like it.
“It’s a bit like a prison, if you do want to do something different you need permission. So it’s been quite stressful.”
Regularly FaceTiming with their children has kept the pair going. “We are so excited to leave and go home,” Elaine said on Wednesday as their departure on Friday loomed.
Wagner added: “We are anxious to return home back to our kids because we are missing them a lot … Though we’re passing through it really well, it has been really hard.
“We can’t wait for our freedom, to see our kids and return to the comfort of our home.”
They took their second COVID test at the hotel on Tuesday, having had a negative test the previous Wednesday.
Despite everything, they don’t regret leaving the country and being delayed and caught up in quarantine.
“It was worth every minute because I got to see my parents,” Wagner said.