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Quarantine? What quarantine?

Oh, that quarantine...

In August I went back to Hungary where I’ve been living for the last seven years. I’d come home to the UK for a family wedding which was cancelled on the 18th March and decided to stick around. I stayed for 5 months and then went back to Hungary, knowing I would have to quarantine myself where I lived. That was in the annexe to a family house that I was renting in Torokbalint. It wasn’t so bad: I had a nice bedroom and an ensuite bathroom (a rare luxury in Hungary) and I had access to the garden as well.

As I came through Hungarian passport control I was grilled by the passport officer who laboriously filled in a form in incomprehensible official Hungarian. The form said I had to quarantine for fourteen days and not leave my home at all. I had to sign it and take one copy away. There was a red sticker announcing the quarantine that had to go on the letterbox by the gate. The family very kindly helped by doing the shopping for me, I got a friend to send me a skipping rope and I was fine – although the dogs were very puzzled as to why I wasn’t walking them in the early mornings as I usually do.

At some time every single day, the cops came round to see if I was still there. They came at different times, usually in their car but once on a motorbike, and I would go to the gate and wave at them and tell them “Minden rendben” which means “everything’s in order.” The visits stopped on the fourteenth day – though I felt that really there should have been some bureaucratic ceremony, with the chief of police tearing up the quarantine form and peeling the red sign off the letterbox and giving me a medal – nothing fancy.

After a couple of months in Hungary I decided I’d better come back to the UK, despite my original cunning plan to avoid experiencing the supply-chain collapse that will happen after Boris’s glorious no-deal Brexit. Two weeks of frantic box-packing later, the boxes were off into the mysterious ether. I hoped they would make it back to Blighty and got busy saying goodbye to my friends. On the 12th October I flew back to England after having spent at least two hours filling in the extremely detailed passenger locator form and getting it printed within 48 hours of travelling.

As I came to passport control in Gatwick I saw an annoyed little group of Brits anxiously filling in their passenger locator forms on their phones under the eagle eye of a Gatwick staff member. Ha ha, I thought smugly, I wasted a lot of Saturday doing that, I hope they put you lot in the Tower.

I trotted up to the desk, passenger locator form at the ready along with my passport. Mask down, usual brisk glance and nobody was interested in the form.

“Don’t I have to show this to somebody?” I asked and was told ‘no.’

Out I went, got the shuttle to north terminal, waited an hour for a train to Reading, got to Reading and was delighted to find I could get a train straight through to Truro. My son met me with the car and we went home to Falmouth.

I waited for the cops to show up. They didn’t. Not even once. Not even on a motorbike. They still haven’t. My boxes showed up a little late, a bit battered but still intact – I’ll use more tape if there’s a next time.

Now I have stayed in my house for ten days so far, despite the fact that I’d love to walk our ancient dog, Holly, go shopping, go to a coffee shop and so on.

I’ve been so well-behaved partly because I think it’s right for people to quarantine themselves if they travel during a pandemic, and partly because my son, who has Asperger’s, is very very law-abiding and would be shocked if I didn’t. He might even call the cops on me if I left the premises – although they probably wouldn’t be interested.

In other words, it’s easy for me to quarantine. As long as there’s a garden where I can stomp around or trip over my skipping rope (I wouldn’t call what I do with it “skipping” yet), I’m fine. But how about less lucky people? How about people who don’t have a law-abiding son to keep them in line?

How many people fill in their passenger locator form, zoom through Gatwick heavily-masked, get home, keep quarantine for a few days, and then forget about it when they need to get some milk? Would it really be so impossible for somebody mildly official to check up; make sure, for instance, that I hadn’t imported more covid 19 along with myself?

Sure, that sort of thing is much easier for Hungary to do which has a smaller population than the UK, pretty law-abiding people and fewer towns and cities. The cops only came once a day and after that I could have gone out and partied if I’d wanted to. But there was the feeling that it was important to them that I didn’t go out.

And the feeling that’s creeping up on me is that in the UK, I may as well not bother because nobody in authority actually cares. I’m incredibly healthy, thanks to choosing the right grandmother who died at 101. Maybe they’d have paid attention if I’d got covid.

Yes, I’m feeling a bit of a fool for having stayed in my house all this time. Just as everybody felt a bit of a fool for keeping the onerous rules of lockdown after Dominic Cummings had his little adventure around Barnard Castle. I want some small sign that me staying indoors is actually helping, some kind of public acknowledgement. Am I the only egotist in England? I think not.

Nobody except me (and my son) actually cared if I stayed home or not. What kind of quarantine is that? And how many people promise to quarantine but don’t actually do it?

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