Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, I was issued a Stay-Home Notice (SHN) when I arrived in Singapore on 7th August. Apart from some countries in the Asia Pacific, everyone entering Singapore has to serve their SHN in a dedicated hotel for a 14-day period (as of August 2020).
The whole reasoning for the two-week quarantine is to allow sufficient time for visible symptoms to show in case you have caught the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
World Health Organisation theorises that an infected person is most contagious at around the time he or she develops symptoms. It usually takes less than a week for symptoms to show, but it could also take up to 14 days. Hence, the need for two weeks of self-isolation.
I stayed at Orchard Hotel Singapore from 7th August till 21st August. The whole SHN was paid for by the government since I am a Singaporean citizen. So, what was the experience like?
Arrival into Changi Airport
The first big difference I noticed in the arrival hall was that I wasn’t allowed to use the automated immigration gates.
The immigration officer checked my passport and my health declaration, a document I needed to submit online three days before my arrival. The officer then clarified about the cities that I had visited in the past two weeks, which included transiting at Doha.
After that, the officer handed me some papers detailing what the SHN is about and the procedures I needed to comply with. He also told me that he had no information on which hotel I would be staying in.
After collecting my baggage, I was immediately ushered to a random queue. There was no chance for me to leave the arrival hall on my own, which obviously meant that I couldn’t go shopping or explore the airport if I wanted to.
When there were about 15 people in the queue, we were all escorted to the coach bay and got into a coach. Even at this point, there was still no mention or indication of where we were headed to. I had no idea where I was going throughout the entire drive until we stopped outside the entrance of Orchard Hotel Singapore.
After signing a few documents, I headed up to the room by myself. Once I entered my room, that was truly the start of the 14-day SHN. SHN means that you have to be in your room ALL THE TIME.
The hotel will deliver all meals and place it outside your room. The food was generally okay. However, the meals were always delivered significantly earlier than my usual mealtimes. I had to eat earlier otherwise the food would have cooled off (except for breakfast because I’m not getting up at 7 AM).
If there is anything you need like extra towels, you let the reception know and they’ll bring it up to you. And if there are any rubbish you need to throw, place them in a bag and leave it outside for the hotel staff to collect.
I’m not sure about other hotels, but Orchard Hotel Singapore also allowed outsiders to hand things to the reception; and someone will bring it up to you. This includes food delivery.
You should only be opening your door to collect things, leave stuff outside or when someone from Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA) pays you a visit. You’re not even supposed to be walking around in the corridor.
I also realised that hotels may employ tactics to catch people leaving their room unnecessarily. For instance, the key cards here were one-time use only. So, if you leave your room, you can’t re-enter using the same key card.
Also, no one (not even the person doing the physical check) should be coming into your room since you’re supposed to stay away from other people for two weeks. Therefore, there are no housekeeping services.
One thing I didn’t expect during my SHN was that the nasopharyngeal swab for COVID-19 was conducted DURING my stay, and not after. I did the test on day 11 of my stay. That was the only occasion where I left my room during the entire two-week quarantine.
Thankfully, the testing facility was in the same hotel on a lower floor. All I did was head downstairs, present my ID, do the swab and go back up to my room. Everything was sorted in 20 minutes.
Two days later, I got a call informing me that I was clear. But take note that that doesn’t mean you can leave early; you still have to complete all 14 days of your SHN.
My SHN finally ended on 21st August. The checkout process was just like any typical hotel checkout: quick and efficient. Although it was a comfortable stay throughout, I was glad that I could finally get back to actual life in Singapore.
ICA check experience
SHN is not just about staying in your hotel room undisturbed for 14 days straight. There will be regular checks to ensure that you’re actually in your room. Singapore is extremely serious about minimising the spread of COVID-19, and you can be charged in court for breaching these rules.
There were 3 types of checks on me while I was in quarantine. The most frequent type of check was texts from ICA. I got this same text three times a day. All I needed to do was turn on my location and tap on the link within one hour of receiving the text.
The second type was video calls. I got this once every day. Someone would call me to verify my ID and place of SHN, and then I needed to show the person my surroundings to confirm that I was in the EXACT room I was assigned to.
The last type of check was physical visits. I got this 6 times during my two-week quarantine. Someone would knock on my door and check that I am physically present in my room.
Note that ICA may outsource these checks to other organisations. The video calls and visits were not done by people from ICA. Although I found these checks slightly intrusive, I got used to them quickly. Furthermore, the timings of these checks were consistent.
For my case, the visits were always done at around 10.30-11 AM while the video calls occurred at around 12-1 PM.