This article is somewhat different to my usual focus on shopper and consumer psychology. Yes, I'll still be talking psychology, but now referring to the 10 days of quarantine I had to endure late last year.
I shared my experience on LinkedIn through daily posts, a running commentary of my time in complete hotel isolation (for a ridiculous cost of £2,285 might I add) so below is a compilation of my posts for all who might have missed out on the live updates!
Day 1 of 10
In early December, I flew to Cape Town in South Africa. There was no word of any issues pre or during the flight, but upon landing we were informed that South Africa was now on the UK red list.
As a result:
- 5 hours on the Monday trying to arrange a quarantine hotel (Cost £2,285)
- 2 hours on Tuesday rearranging return flights
- 2 hours Wednesday arranging a PCR test
- 3 hours Thursday taking said PCR test and completing UK border paperwork
Flew back Friday, followed by:
- 1 hour to be 'processed' by UK border control
- 1 further hour waiting for luggage
- 1.5 further hours queuing to check-in to the hotel.
All that said, I'm now officially in quarantine (although my car is still trapped in an airport car park at an exorbitant cost).
With 10 long days ahead of me, the initial feeling is very much of helplessness and frustration. I feel out of control because the border and hotel staff are so strict (check out the hi-vis jackets in the image that accompanies this, plus there are guards on every floor). And frustrated because of the global 'virtue signalling' being conducted. South Africa may have identified the new variant of Covid, but they've been tarred with starting it, even though it has been found in many other countries now.
In summary, first to identify a scientific discovery DOES NOT mean the discovering scientists caused it!
Now I really can say I'm working remotely. with no view of other people or the open air, got any vitamin D anyone?
Day 2 of 10
Watching Andrew Marr this morning from my quarantine hotel room, I was interested to hear from the experts in the UK and South Africa, regarding the new Omicron variant.
Remember, these are objective, experts in their fields, NOT headline-grabbing journalists (Andrew Marr aside). To summarise their comments, Omicron is already in circulation globally, so travel bans are the wrong focus. To use an analogy, it's like trying to keep a few raindrops falling into an already swollen river, instead of trying to lower the water level within the river itself.
The experts also appear to be agreeing that Omicron is highly transmissible across communities, but almost entirely between NON-vaccinated individuals. So once again, serious consequences of the virus are avoided by being vaccinated (especially booster jabbed).
Thirdly and finally, the scientists also agree that the symptoms of omicron appear to be somewhat less severe overall.
In summary, Omicron is already in communities globally, but it is spreading mostly among unvaccinated people. And if you’ve been vaccinated, there is much less risk of becoming seriously ill.
Dominic Raab himself has just said that the best defence against Omicron is to be vaccinated. With that in mind, why is there so much focus on keeping double jabbed and booster jabbed people isolated? People like me!
And by the way, I totally agree with Richard E Grant, in that £2,285 is unjustifiably expensive for what we in quarantine actually receive (See the image).
Back to the topic of the psychology of quarantine, I have now been socially isolated in a hotel room for 36 hours now and am noticing some small but interesting changes in my mindset. Firstly, life becomes quite relaxed because I am unable to make any plans for the next 8 days. This results in a feeling of peace and calmness.
Conversely, with just a laptop, smartphone, and TV at my disposal, it is already starting to become difficult to focus on a single activity for long. Therefore, I’m starting to plan my time usage in detail. By that, I mean becoming more time-driven as opposed to project focussed. Allotting time to a single task and celebrating the time invested as opposed to project progress.
Moving on to the details of being quarantined: Yesterday’s meals were all delivered in brown carrier bags. Warm porridge (made with water) for breakfast, a baked potato with baked beans (warmish) for lunch and a spicy chicken leg with rice for dinner. All were accompanied with water, juice and fruit, or a sweet treat. So far, the style and quality of the food is very similar to what you get on a school day trip.
Must go now as the hotel has organised daily yoga classes by Zoom???
Day 3 of 10
Since arriving back from South Africa Friday evening and going straight to my quarantine hotel, I’ve been monitoring my own mindset.
Sitting in my room, listening to the atrocious scaremongering news, I can’t help but feel a sense of anger regarding what is bordering on misrepresentation. This morning, I have endured a number of reports relating to ‘The next pandemic being much more lethal’ if there isn’t more funding’ (I’ll wager that obtaining funding is the aim of that scare tactic). Then there is the whole lockdown for Christmas thing. So much negativity.
But hidden in all this doom and gloom is the report that Omicron appears to be milder than other variants. Yes, milder.
Although I applaud a government that has the health of the nation at heart, I do sometimes wonder whether those in power listen more to scientists of the likes of Dan Walker and Susannah Reid?
Back to a personal report of life in quarantine. This morning, I received the results of my day 2 PCR test – Negative. This got me thinking: Does anyone know what percentage of all those locked up in hotel rooms around the UK have tested positive? As we’re each being charged £2,285 for 10 nights in confinement and being fed lukewarm food, that appears to resemble poor quality school meals.
On the other side of the coin, the hotel I’m in is of decent quality, is clean, well equipped and the ‘meal’ service is reliable, if not very appealing. As I have an inward-facing room, I have no view of the ‘outside’ and do wonder how this impacts a person's mindset. I’ll let you know.
Prisoners get more exercise time than us business professionals confined to airport hotel rooms.
The point of today’s post is this: Could the government and those in charge take the terrible issue that is Covid, and instead of scaring the public into action, get a lot, lot more subtle. Allow specialist marketers and behavioural scientists to help them frame the issues so as to most effectively drive behaviour change. For example, target such cognitive biases as loss aversion and the bandwagon effect.
Loss aversion: Humans fear loss twice as much as they appreciate gain. For example, “Unvaccinated individuals are 20X more likely to lose their health and freedom and end up in the ICU”
Bandwagon effect: People’s behaviour alters due to the particular actions and beliefs of other people. “60% of people in your street have already had their booster jab” for example.
I’d be interested to hear the thoughts of others regarding the effectiveness of communication during this pandemic.
Day 4 of 10
Having traveled from South Africa and arrived back in the UK last Friday evening, I am now entering day 4 of my 10-day quarantine. I’m objectively monitoring both the experience overall, and my mindset from a psychological perspective.
I spent part of yesterday compiling a few statistics.
Firstly, around 1.65% of the UK population currently has Covid: This equates to 1 in 60 people. Taking the hotel I’m staying in, it has a total of over 300 rooms, and when added to the 450+ rooms in the adjoining Holiday Inn Express, (same complex), there are a total of more than 750 rooms.
According to my source, there are a total of 20 positive PCR results from the 750 rooms currently occupied.
Each room is generating a minimum of £2,285 in terms of the cost to the guest or guests. The total costs incurred by all 750+ current guests amounts to £1,713,750. It is jointly costing us, guests, more than £85,000 for each positive PCR test identified. Surely there are more cost-effective ways of managing this situation.
Moving on to my current mindset. In all honesty, I’m quite relaxed and have the time and solitude to be able to think, plan and strategize without interruption. I’m sure many of you either working remotely or in offices can imagine the efficiency of not being interrupted.
I’m also motivated by a number of stories starting to appear: Firstly, there is a legal challenge regarding the legality of this quarantine lockdown. The next development will be when the legal challenge launches in the High Court in London this Thursday.
The experts say:
“Hotel quarantine is a fundamental breach of people’s human rights. Law-abiding citizens who have been double vaccinated and tested negative should be free from hotel quarantine. The idea that they need to pay for the privilege of their own imprisonment is outrageous. It is for this reason that we are taking the UK government to court.”
Another reason to be positive is that the new Omicron variant is starting to be reported as being less severe than other mutations of the virus. Some have gone as far as to say, it could be an effective means of people building up immunity to other, potentially more lethal strains, by experiencing a milder variant/illness.
Finally, I can’t end without commenting on how it feels to be under guard. By that I mean, there are always 6 – 10 guards in hi-vis jackets in the reception area of the hotel and there are additional guards on every floor of the hotel (See today's image). In summary, we are not able to leave our rooms, and even if you open the door and look out, the guards come and enquire what you are up to.
But, the same guards who are keeping us from interacting with other people are also keeping us isolated and therefore less exposed to the risk of contracting the virus.
Day 5 of 10
As the heading indicates, I’m now on day 5 (of 10) of my imposed quarantine, locked in a hotel room near Heathrow Airport.
On the subject of my mindset, as I endure or exist through this most unnatural of situations, my feelings are best explained using an analogy:
Imagine swimming the English Channel. That is how it feels dealing with this 10 day isolation period. More specifically, Being more than 40% across (or through), I am almost as far as I can be from land. Therefore, there is no point in looking back, I simply have to commit to reaching the other side. That thought process provides real resilience and drives my determination.
One thing I have no idea about is what this situation is doing to my health. What with having no exposure to natural light (or even being able to see any), and the change in diet, from eating the current school meals we are all being fed. I could be gaining weight or losing it, I’ve no idea. There is, however, a lot more sugar available from some of the breakfast items (Coco Poops and orange juice this morning) and dinner-time desserts.
Personally, I’m not eating the sugar but have calculated that there are as many as 1,000 calories in the form of processed sugar some days. Combining this with the lack of physical exercise, I suspect some ‘guests' are at risk of piling on the pounds.
Moving on to talk of the process of quarantine itself, I’d thought I’d share a few of the ‘rules’ we are all living under during our confinement.
- Guests are only allowed to leave their rooms if accompanied by a security guard. The only purposes for leaving the room are to walk around for 15 minutes outside or to authorise a credit card with reception.
- Interestingly, we are told we can’t photograph other guests without their permission – As we can’t even physically see any of them, this would be a real challenge anyway.
- Now I’m not a smoker, but I do feel for those who are. We’re not allowed to smoke in our rooms (the fire alarm when off 3 times yesterday, hmm). And anyone wanting to smoke outside only has a daily 15-minute window. Guests can, if they desire, buy nicotine patches from reception.
- We are allowed to have items delivered to the hotel. Personally, I’ve ordered and received a portable piano keyboard, and… …quite a lot of lager (as the hotel wants to charge £5 for a single 33cl can).
To end with, I must say that we are being treated very professionally by the hotel and the process appears to be working well (food quality aside). Whether it is cost-effective or even necessary is another matter.
Oh, and incidentally, there’s no way Downing Street could arrange a party, cheese and wine evening, or business meeting here, under this regime. Way too much security and too many rules!
Day 6 of 10
At 12:01am, earlier this morning, I reached and passed a significant milestone: Completing 50% of my enforced 10-day hotel room based quarantining since returning to the UK from Cape Town last Friday.
Yesterday, I watched the news intently as Boris announced Plan B, and that England is moving into it. Frankly, I have no issues with any of the new restrictions, as they all make sense. But:
- They are now advocating working from home again if possible. If they’d let me get home, I’d jump at the chance.
- Secondly, we all have to wear masks in more public places. Well, us ‘quarantinees’ aren’t allowed in any public places (apart from the hotel ‘exercise yard’). So again, let me into some public places and I’ll gladly wear a mask.
- Thirdly, the Prime Minister has told us that there will be a wider role for Covid passports. The only person I could show it to is the person delivering my meals to my hotel room 3 times a day.
There was another interesting revelation that came out of yesterday’s press conference held by Number 10 (nothing like any form of party, honest guv). The PM admitted the unfairness of how quarantine hotels have been imposed, recognising that those returning from red list countries being asked to quarantine in a hotel room, that they have to pay for, have "a very fair challenge". The case is being heard at a High Court in London this afternoon.
So, how am I feeling having spent more than 5 days and nights in total solitary confinement? Pretty good actually. The longer this goes on, the slower the days (specifically afternoons) take to pass, but as long as I keep a structure to my time, then I achieve a good workflow. And anyway, I’ve discovered that apart from Countdown, there’s absolutely nothing to watch on daytime television. Plus, most of the adverts talk of death, dying, or incapacity, so not much fun there.
Any dream analysts out there? The last couple of nights, I’ve experienced really vivid dreams, not good or bad, but mentally intense. Upon waking from them and realising where I am fills me with an immediate sense of ease and security. Any Idea what’s going on in my head as I sleep? By the way, I don’t drink wine and haven’t eaten any cheese.
Consciously, I am now focussing on the time I have left to endure, more than how long I’ve been here. The aim is to focus on the end result more than the details of getting there: A proven motivational technique.
Finally, when I first checked in to the hotel, I used the QR code based app to access the meal menu and selected my dinner options for each of the first 5 nights. Don’t get too excited, it’s only a choice between 2 items for each evening. This morning, I excitedly accessed the menu again to book my remaining dinner-time delights. Surely there would be some more tempting meals to try? I’ve now found out that the dinner menu repeats itself every week. So, I only have the same, lukewarm ‘fare’ to look forward to. Doh!
Day 7 of 10
I arrived here in this solitary confinement scenario that is my hotel room located adjacent to T4, Heathrow airport, way back on Friday 3rd December. Since then, I have spent 7 days and nights in the same room. I’ve had no face-to-face conversations, and the only people I’ve seen are those delivering my lukewarm meals or PCR test.
Today, I’d like to talk about the costs of this experience. As some of you know, it is costing me £2,280 for my 10-day stay. The price includes 2 PCR tests and a bus transfer from terminal T5 to terminal T4 and then T4 to the hotel (the latter, a distance of no more than 500 metres, but took more than an hour).
To keep it simple, let’s assume that the PCR tests and transfers cost £280 (a generous estimate for sure). That leaves £2,000 or £200 per day. I am being provided with 3 ‘meals’ per day, but these are extremely basic. For example, this morning’s breakfast was a sausage and egg McMuffin, a prepackaged pain au chocolat, and an apple. In my opinion, these meals would never cost more than £10 each (or £30 per day). The cost of the hotel room is £80 (Traveleuro) per night.
Therefore, meals for £30, room for £80 comes to £110. Where is the other £90 per night going? This represents £900 per ‘quarantine’, and there are 300 rooms here...
In total, that comes to £270,000 apparent profit from this hotel alone.
We're doing our bit here, being locked away from family and friends for 10 days, managing shifting mindsets, but resolutely following the rules. And yet I strongly suspect people are profiting from our situation.
This leads me to the next point. I have discovered that there is another Crown Plaza hotel by Heathrow. Apparently, that contains 800 asylum seekers, who will no doubt be being paid for by UK taxpayers. I am pretty certain that the meals we are being served here at the T4 hotel are the same as those received by the residents of the other Crowne Plaza. Both sets of fare are being produced offsite and delivered to the hotels (hence they are only lukewarm when we receive them).
There is something about this entire situation that seems plain wrong.
Rant over, how is my mindset overall, having reached day 7? I have quite a busy routine for the mornings, so I don't have any ‘thinking’ time until around 3 pm. Then the days drag. During this time, it gets boring, and no matter how much I work through a list of things to do, the hours between 3 pm and 7 pm are the worst.
But never mind, as the weekend is almost here. And that makes… …absolutely no difference to my activity at all.
Day 8 of 10
Since arriving back from South Africa over a week ago, and going straight to my quarantine hotel, I’ve been monitoring my own mindset.
I’ve now reached the dizzy heights of 7 days and nights completed: 7 days of not seeing other people, or even the sky outside. How am I feeling right now? Surprisingly at ease, although every time I think of how long I have felt, even the 3 days and nights left seem like quite a long time.
Before I left South Africa, I thought that the 12 hour day flight was quite a daunting mental exercise. It had been switched from a night flight due to the instant, and in my opinion unreasonable, placing of South Africa onto the red list. So far, I’ve completed the equivalent of 14, 12 hour flights, and still have 6 more to go.
The less you have to occupy your mind, the slower time goes by. And this is compounded by an ever-increasing difficulty in concentrating on the same task for very long. At any point during the day, I have a choice of things to do, from reading, to crosswords, the TV, and even practicing the piano, on a small keyboard I bought from Amazon. But as I say, it takes real conscious effort to maintain focus for more than about 30 minutes.
Today is a big day here in enforced solitary confinement. I get to take my day 8 PCR test. And this is something that has been on my mind since I first arrived.
The reason being, that if the test result comes back negative, then I’m free to leave on Tuesday morning. If, however, the PCR test comes back positive, then I’ll have to stay here another 10 days. And frankly, I’ve no idea what that will do mentally. By the way, physically, I feel absolutely fine.
Finally, I’m getting more and more suspicious regarding the news coverage of Omicron. There’s a lot of scaremongering in what appears to be an attempt to frighten people into getting jabbed, specifically booster jabbed. And hidden within the scare tactics is the apparently non-newsworthy fact that evidence from South Africa suggests that Omicron only causes mild symptoms for most. So that will be just the normal flu then?
Helen Reece in South Africa says that although there is a very rapidly expanding spread of Omicron cases, there is only a slight increase in numbers going to hospital. And even those that do go to hospital aren’t as unwell as those admitted with other variants.
Day 9 of 10
Things are looking up, I’ve now reached the dizzy heights of day 9 of my 10 days of enforced quarantine since arriving back in the UK from South Africa, on 3rd December.
Yesterday, I took some time looking into the psychological effects of quarantine and found a fascinating report in The Lancet. It reviewed five studies that compared psychological outcomes for people quarantined with those not quarantined.
The Lanced Report concluded that the psychological impact of quarantine is wide-ranging, substantial, and can be long-lasting. It doesn't suggest that quarantine should not be used, as the psychological effects of not using quarantine and allowing disease to spread might be worse.
However, depriving people of their liberty for the wider public good is often contentious and needs to be handled carefully.
If quarantine is essential, then research results suggest that officials should take every measure to ensure that this experience is as tolerable as possible for people (clearly, room for improvement here).
This can be achieved by: telling people what is happening and why, explaining how long it will continue, providing meaningful activities for them to do while in quarantine, providing clear communication, ensuring basic supplies (such as food and water) are available, and reinforcing the sense of altruism that people should, rightly, be feeling.
Health officials charged with implementing quarantine should also remember that not everyone is in the same situation. The results of The Lancet Review suggest there can be long-term consequences that affect not just the people quarantined but also those administering the quarantine and the politicians and public health officials who mandate it.
How does my experience compare with the above? I clearly understood what was happening and why (Whether I agree with it is another matter). I have had 'some' activities to occupy me during quarantine, but solitary confinement is hard, really hard. Thank heavens for my Smartphone and laptop. All of us here in this hotel have a good supply of basic goods, such as food. But the food is very much that: Basic!
The matter of my sense of altruism is an interesting one. The odds of me having the chance to infect others is statistically so low, and the fact that Omicron is already in communities fills me with mixed emotions. Throughout this pandemic, I've had a real concern regarding both being infected and how some people blatantly flout the rules and risk infecting others. But on the other side of the coin, I cannot help thinking that these quarantine restrictions are more for those in power to be seen to be engaged in some serious virtue signalling, and that I’m afraid makes me somewhat angry.
Finally, but importantly, this morning the result of my day-8 PCR test came back negative, so I am free to leave Tuesday: Real light at the end of a long, long tunnel.
Day 10 of 10
This time tomorrow, I’ll be released from the enforced quarantine that I’ve been forced to endure since arriving back in the UK from South Africa, on 3rd December. So this will be my last post on the subject.
To begin with, the image above shows the only way we quarantinees are able to experience the open air. It shows a converted car park, with a massive concrete wall on 2 sides, and resembles a prison exercise yard. To access the service, we have to give our name and room number to a guard located by the lifts on each floor, then we do the same thing as we enter a covered walkway that links the hotels with the exercise yard.
Once we get to the yard, we can walk or jog around for as long as we like. I witnessed a bizarre psychological phenomenon: Almost everyone was walking in an anti-clockwise direction, but 3 lone souls insisted on walking clockwise, having to weave between the 100 or so guests going the other way – Very strange and I have no idea why they did this.
On the subject of my mindset, I have been monitoring my emotional state on a daily basis, using a proven emotions measurement tool, that records, enjoyment, excitement, and confusion levels and then cleverly reveals my precise emotional state.
In terms of enjoyment, I began the 10 days in a relatively neutral state, which slowly declined until the midpoint of my stay. It then climbed steadily ending marginally above neutral.
Excitement on the other hand started very, very low and has steadily climbed during the 10 days, finishing at a neutral state.
What about confusion levels? I began the 10 days in a neutral state of confusion and it has slowly declined as time has gone by to almost no confusion now.
What do these emotional ratings reveal? I began the quarantine feeling affiliation towards the process and the longer time went by, the less submissive and more assertive or dominant I have become.
In summary, when I first arrived, emotionally, I supported quarantine and mentally submitted to it. But today, although I still support quarantine (emotionally), I have taken charge of my mental situation.
To put it into words, when I started my quarantine, the word to describe my emotional state was ‘Serene’. Today as I reach the end of the experience, my emotional state is described as ‘Expectant’.
Finally, I hope you’ve enjoyed these posts over the last 10 days, and look forward to returning to posting more about shopper and consumer psychology and the fascinating subject of behavioural science.
Thank you for reading.