UPDATE: 6:06pm - Some Travelodge guests have reported hearing an announcement in their rooms stating they will be moved to another quarantine hotel. More than 366 people will be evacuated.
Returning Australians are calling for a reevaluation of hotel quarantine facilities after arriving to what guests described as “unhygienic” rooms with “sticky handles” and “clumps of someone else’s hair” on surfaces.
Expat Lauren Farmer said that her mental health spiralled after arriving at her $3,000 hotel quarantine room at Travelodge Hotel Sydney on Friday where she became “distraught” by the state of the accommodation.
“The floor in the bathroom was covered in grime and dirt, I couldn’t take a shower. The handles and tables were all sticky,” Farmer, who is an expedition leader on ships in Antarctica, told HuffPost Australia via phone.
“Clumps of someone else’s hair on the sofa, another girl had so much hair on her sofa that she put it into a ziplock, and it fills the ziplock.”
Other arrivals to the Travelodge have shared their experiences with the Australians In Quarantine Facilities Facebook group. One guest wrote that she had a “panic attack” and “couldn’t stop crying” after arriving. Another posted that they found “toenail clippings on the floor” when they moved the bed to make more space.
Others have called the pictures and accounts of peoples’ leftover physical material “disgusting”, while one guest said she left the hotel to another facility due to an asthma attack.
“I was there and I did get moved because the dust and dirt was so bad it affected my asthma,” guest Chelsea Thomas said of her stay more than 10 days ago.
“The doctor told me it is the worst hotel they are using because it’s so old, and dusty.”
Travelodge confirmed to HuffPost Australia all rooms are deep cleaned thoroughly before and after guest use and added they have apologised to Farmer “for the errant hair and the residue cleaning powder on her carpet (from where our housekeeping team had cleaned the walls).”
“That is certainly not the standard we pride ourselves on and, as soon as we were alerted, we did everything we could to safely rectify the situation,” a Travelodge Hotel spokesperson said.
“The bathroom tiles are weathered, but they were clean.”
Farmer, whose British husband is waiting for her at their home back in Scotland, is returning to Australia briefly to apply for her UK Spousal Visa - a task that requires the applicant to physically be in their home country in order to apply.
Farmer, who has now been moved to another hotel, is one of just 4,000 people allowed to enter Australia per week under the National Cabinet’s cap on arrivals.
This means the limited number of airlines that still fly to Australia are permitted to carry up to just 50 passengers — Australian nationals only — and there is a huge backlog of cancelled seats and flights, creating a domino effect of chaos for anyone bumped from their original flights. The Guardian reported Qatar has flown into Australia with as little as four passengers in economy.
HuffPost Australia has been in contact with many stranded Australians - including health care professionals, essential workers and people who travelled to the UK for the funerals of relatives - who now face months before a seat is available on a flight home. One mother is “currently couch surfing with a four-year-old and a six-year-old” while she waits to see if the fifth flight she has booked home is cancelled.
Farmer said returning expats believe in hotel quarantine and “want to keep Australia safe” but some of the conditions she’s seen in WhatsApp threads, online forums and Facebook Groups “is a lot to bear.”
She added that none of the arrivals expect luxury although they do “expect clean”. She is currently campaigning on social media and writing to local MPs to secure an environment for returning Australians “which will not be detrimental to our physical and mental health.”
The hotel industry is reportedly “desperate” for the government to raise overseas passenger caps to fill quarantine rooms because many of Sydney’s CBD hotels are running at less than 10% occupancy.
“When quarantine first started we were taking 3,000 arrivals a day in Sydney alone,” Michael Johnson, the chief executive of Tourism Accommodation Australia told The Guardian.
“So the government are aware there’s availability on our end. There are a number of hotels prepared to participate in quarantine.”
Farmer said she spoke with Travelodge GM Rob McKenna who was “very kind” and agreed with her that many of the rooms are not appropriate for long-term stays.
“I understand the Travelodge is a good and basic option for people exploring the city. It’s a place where you crash and only spend a couple of hours,” she said.
“We’re not wimps or divas.
“I simply could not accept that after all the effort we’ve been through to get to Australia and what we were prepared to put ourselves through, that we could be subject to such an unhygienic environment.”