Nana Kwasi Gyan Apenteng writes: Quarantine Diary – Day One

Veteran journalist and ex-chairman of the National Media Commission, Nana Kwasi Gyan Apenteng is currently in London and has been quarantined.

He begins a 10-day publication chronicling his 10-day quarantine experience in London.

Quarantine Diary – Day One

It is gone past eight o’clock in the British capital and the London sky is grey but bright enough to see without the aid of artificial lighting.

We are in the final stretch of May and the long nights of summer are almost here. A light drizzle is a reminder that things have not changed and this is London; together with the windiness, I have not had much appetite to step outdoors, which is just as well. I am under quarantine.

Students of history would know that quarantine was traditionally imposed on people suffering from infectious diseases to keep them away from other people in the interest of public health and safety.

Now, public health is still the reason but I am healthy. The last time I checked, I was negative and that was only 72 hours ago.

I am locked down in my brother’s home with his family. To be honest, we are having a great time, so taken together with the miserable British weather outside, I am not miserable or lonely. But still, I cannot step outside the house if I wanted to – even when the elements become attractive. All this because I come from Ghana, which is an Amber country.

You see, the Brits have done a Covid-19 safety classification of all countries based on the traffic light system of green, amber and red.

Red represents the most dangerous countries like India where the new coronavirus is raging like a forest fire in harmattan. Amber, where Ghana is placed, is in the middle – not bad but not good either.

Green is for countries where the infection is low and, vaccination uptake is high and the health system is efficient. Australia, Israel and a number of islands are on the green list.

The punishment for coming from an Amber country is ten days self-isolation at home when you arrive here. It is better than arrivals from red countries who are required to hide away in hotels at considerable expense. Our situation also comes with some expenses.

Firstly, one has to take a PCR Covid-19 test some 72 hours before departure. I left Accra on Wednesday but when I went for the test last Monday I was told that KLM required travelers transiting through Amsterdam to take the test no earlier than a day before departure.

I had to return for the test on Tuesday and collect the result on Wednesday morning. I was negative and therefore cleared for travel that same night. That test cost me 250 Ghana cedis. It would be double that if one needed same day results.

Despite taking that test, the Brits require the visitor to take two more tests within the ten-day quarantine period on the second and eighth days. For this I had to pay 170 pounds sterling which is roughly 1,400 Ghana cedis. There is a get out of jail card, which is a fifth day test that costs around 70 pounds sterling – another 560 Ghana cedis.

Now, the thorough British establishment takes no chances, not after being heavily criticized for being lax in border control for months at the beginning of the pandemic.

Making up for lost severity, they now go all out to make sure we are kept in. One has to fill a ‘passenger locator from” in which one provides details of where one will quarantine, phone number, emails and that sort of thing.

I arrived yesterday morning in London after a couple of hours in transit in Amsterdam. The Amsterdam immigration and police were, as usual serious, unsmiling and systematic.

They are doing the Brit’s bidding without letting anyone or anything slip. They asked for every document at a point set up for travelers going to the UK.

In comparison, the immigration officer at London City Airport was almost friendly – if you can imagine a friendly immigration officer in the UK!

Anyway, I got to my brother’s place and happy to do so because I couldn’t travel last year due to Covid restrictions. My brother and his family all work from home fully or partially, and it is interesting.

My niece, who is a lawyer attends court sessions online and my sister-in-law was doing something important with patients of her nursing practice also from home.

My nephew, an accountant works sometimes at home but was working in the office when I arrived yesterday. He joined the home squad today.

It is their discipline that is astonishing. Despite working in their own home, they keep the same discipline required in the office; indeed, in some sense, they work more and harder because they don’t spend any time in the traffic. Ghana should consider making more people work at home because it makes sense. We will save on fuel, travel time, traffic and be more efficient.

It is my existential philosophy always to try and tough it out when I travel so that I go to bed with the natives no matter how tired I am. I stayed up and caught up pleasantly with my brother and his family last night while watching Ghana TV. We watched episodes of a show on Nhyira TV which I had never watched before.

It is a show in which people take their personal problems to a host called Mama Efe and a panel to help find answers. It is a Kumasi show and has a heavy Kumawood flavour to it. It is ironic that my brother knows far more about happenings in Ghana than I do.

I know I am going to find quarantine difficult. By nature, I live a frenetic life, moving from place to place. During the lockdown in Ghana, I survived the ordeal by setting myself the task of writing a Lockdown Diary so I moved around to observe how the whole lockdown was going. Here there is such get out for me.

These people mean business. The temptation to escape and go to a bookshop is rather strong because one of the pleasures in life is to browse books at Victoria Station on the second day in London. But these guys mean business. They have already called to find out if I am at home and I have heard stories of the police turning up unannounced to home-check. The penalty for breaking the quarantine is a huge fine, especially when you convert it into cedis.

So, obviously, I am counting the minutes and days to my freedom. I arrived and spent all day yesterday at home. Imagine my horror and disappointment to learn this morning that yesterday, the day of arrival is Day Zero and the counting starts from today. I feel cheated, and in the British spirit will write a letter to the editor to complain!

So, today is Day One. Nine days to go. We shall overcome.

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