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Brit's Covid nightmare and quarantine on Koh Samui


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Times is behind a paywall so cut and pasted this cautionary tale that makes you reflect. Blimey !!

A young Brit called Max Olseker wrote:

Covid and quarantine in Koh Samui by Max Olseker

 On December 19, after a week of near-hourly negative lateral flow and PCR tests, I flew to Thailand for a much longed-for break. On December 20 I stepped off the plane, took another PCR, and headed to my hotel. The next morning I received a text informing me I had tested positive.


The Omicronicles begin
“One night!” the fully hazmat-suited Koh Samui public health official shouted, gesturing firmly at the ambulance waiting outside my hotel. “You test negative, you come back straight away. You test positive, you stay in hospital for one night. One night!” Thus began my Thai hospital experience. In solo isolation. For ten nights.


Koh Samui hospital
I took in my surroundings. Narrow hospital bed, zero creature comforts (unless the creature in question is ants, in which case far, far too many creature comforts). On the wall? Instructions to download Line, a messaging app via which the nurses communicated using a baffling combination of terse instructions and cutesy cartoon animal gifs. One of the first messages I received was a relaxing warning that any non-cooperation would be met with a year in prison. “This information not for scary you but it a truth to know and understand.” But, I confess, it did scary me. It did.*


Meals appeared silently outside my room, each one a unique mystery. These included “sausages with sachets of jam” (Why? Why not!) and the “plastic bag o’ broth”.

And “Unspecified Paste Sandwich”. The look: formless beige mush with grey flecks. The smell: onion mixed with blue cheese. Taste: we will simply never know.

As I attempted to come to terms with a lifestyle I optimistically rebranded as “Surprisolation”, I adjusted my holiday lifestyle expectations.

A chance to sleep? More like a chance to record my own medical measurements every four hours, including 2am and 6am.

A chance to relax? How about: a chance to be woken up by someone coming in at 4am to x-ray my chest. (My lungs were fine. I remained obstinately asymptomatic throughout my stay, which — while a huge relief — added to the surreality of the experience.)

Yep, it was deeply strange. And yet humans have a powerful ability to recalibrate themselves. After five nights I found myself becoming strangely comfortable with my small, sparse, universe . . . which is exactly when I was told I was being moved.

NB: A note on travelling in general. There is of course a powerful argument that travelling during a pandemic is foolish and unwise, and if that’s what you think, I don’t disagree with you. Plus, look, it all went horrifically for me — so you win.


The field hospital
“You are being taken to a field hospital. Pack your things now.” So came the edict, out of nowhere, from my Line app (followed up by a gif of a cartoon sheep bowing, obviously). A cursory googling of “Thai field hospital” – which brought up images of militarised factory warehouses containing 600 beds — led to a mild nervous breakdown. But, miraculously, our new location was in fact a repurposed villa resort. My bed was suddenly a double, my shower suddenly functional. It was paradise.

And yet. Although the surroundings were infinitely more luxurious, the rules governing the place were, for some reason, far stricter than the actual hospital. The spacious sun-kissed balcony directly outside my room was, heartbreakingly, off-limits. All deliveries were tightly policed. An extension cable was forbidden because it could be used as a noose. Happy holidays! And, most mysteriously punitive of all, no booze.

Again came a period of readjustment and negotiation. A cord-free plug was eventually permitted. To my surprise and delight, the balcony was suddenly greenlit for use, presumably on the basis that it was located so far from anyone else, the only thing I’d be able to transmit to another person would be my intense sense of loneliness. And, after three days of tense, high-level negotiations, the hospital allowed in some wine — for the purposes of Havdalah, the Jewish ritual that, to my immense gratitude, requires a glass that’s full to overflowing. It doesn’t specifically require that you keep the remainder of the bottle on hand for sundry emergencies, but I feel it’s sort of implied.


Sitting alone in my curious field hospital room, raising a glass of quasi-contraband red, talking to my family and loved ones over Zoom and eating a Christmas dinner very kindly cooked by a Thai chef who had only a loose sense of the composition of the meal (was I expecting “two types of sauerkraut” and “squidgy potato dumplings”? No! Was I deeply grateful for them? Yes!) I had by far the strangest December 25 of my life.


Freedom eve
I packed my things and reflected on my holiday within a holiday — an endless expanse of time that had somehow flown by, a never-to-be-repeated chapter of my life that had been harrowing and, at times, strangely fun (all in all, a bit like going to university).

Low moments? Plenty. I lost half a day recording myself on a smartphone app, attempting to form a one-man a cappella group, the Quaran-Tones. The hospital kindly agreed to wash my clothes, only to utterly obliterate them by using the universe’s strongest known bleach. I’m ashamed to say that I even resorted to the medium of Instagram stories to document my incarceration. I’m even more ashamed to say that the collected saga amounts to some of my proudest work (check it out, it’s saved for posterity at @maxolesker).

There were more profound moments of strangeness too. A beloved great-uncle died. The night before my release I dressed in my formal suit, joined my family on Zoom and we recited kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead. He was a suave and worldly Parisian who lived until he was 90 and who experienced genuine hardship — including hiding from the Nazis in caves during the Second World War. I remembered him fondly and felt acutely aware, in the grand scheme of things, of how lucky I was.

And then my ten days were up and I was set free.

The return . . .
After my release by the kindly hazmat-suited health authorities, I extended my stay in Thailand on the basis that, if I were to leave quarantine and fly directly back to work, I would quite simply disintegrate.

I write this looking out at the lush, verdant mountains of Koh Samui, its flawless white beaches and brilliant blue skies. An island doing its best to find its equilibrium during unceasingly strange and disorientating times.

After a week — finally — of relaxation, decompression and drinks that I don’t have to use biblical citations to acquire (or have smuggled in in a Listerine bottle; shhhh), I’ll return home with a twinkle in my eye and a tale to tell. And a solemn vow never to set foot within 500m of a plane for the rest of my life.

*Also, to be clear, I was utterly, pathetically co-operative at all times.




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Wonder how much more he will tell when he's outside of Thailand?

Noticed his Twitter posts stop on Xmas day but he does seem to reply to some comments. A shocking experience, and terrible PR for the tourism industry - incarcerating a celebrity.

On the upside any Jewish comedian worth their salt should be able to get stacks of material out of this😀

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