• 2022.04.14
  • Hit by omicron (Part III)
With all the media outlets focusing on Russia and Ukraine, coronavirus news seems to have disappeared. Of course, people are still getting infected and dying from it, but they’re no longer being forced to get PCR or antigen tests to travel, and restrictions on everyday life have eased.

But at the risk of beating a dead horse, I’d like to present the last installment in my omicron saga.

I gathered all the documentation we’d need to get into Japan, and my kids and I boarded a flight from Lisbon to Haneda via Germany. It’s all a one-way path now once you get off the airplane, making sure that everyone makes it to the very end. At several points along the route, they have various inspection booths and checkpoints set up. Every one of them is manned by what seems like fifty people, so that the moment you stop you’re on to the next station in the blink of an eye. They first make sure you have your documents in order, then check for your negative PCR test, then do a post-arrival PCR test, then tell you how to download the app on your phone, then tell you to actually install the download… each step comes at you one after another. Then you have to wait for information on a hotel where you’ll quarantine for six days while also awaiting the results of your post-arrival PCR test. Even though by this point in the process you’ve already waited for two hours, something was always happening—so it’s the first time you actually feel like you’re waiting. In fact, it was a relief to finally be able to sit down and take a break. I had heard some awful things about the hotel quarantine, so I was just hoping that they’d somehow find enough space for a family of three to not feel too cramped.

The person in charge told us that we should probably go to the restroom, since it was going to take a while to get to the hotel. I steeled myself, having no idea how far they were going to take us, and boarded the bus. After several minutes, another person boarded the bus and told us that our hotel was the one right in front of us. At first I barely paid attention, thinking I had misheard them—but the bus driver announced that we were heading out, and then not five minutes later said we had arrived. Really? Our hotel was in a building directly facing the airport across from the huge traffic circle right in front of it. I’m telling you, we could have walked directly from the airport exit to the hotel in a straight line in less time than it took the bus to drive around the circle. It was like some kind of joke.

The people at the front desk also explained everything to us and showed us to our room. It wasn’t very big, but I was relieved to see that it was a new hotel and clean. The day you arrive isn’t counted as a quarantine day, so it ended up being a total of seven days of the three of us together, never leaving that room.
On each morning of each day, we would take our temperatures and report them through the app. Once every three days, we were required to take a PCR test in the morning. They also delivered bento boxes to us three times a day—morning, noon, and evening. We couldn’t even go in the hallway as we pleased, and announcements blared into the room morning until night telling us what to do. It was a weird week.
I’ll start with the bento boxes. The first two days, all three of us were cheering with excitement at the prospect of eating real Japanese bento, tucking into them with great delight. But starting a day or two before we got out of there, my kids wouldn’t even take the lids off. It seemed like we just lay on the beds all day, and before I knew it I was getting up to go to the bathroom again and again. It wasn’t that far, but even that small amount of movement was refreshing.
When I went to the toilet on the last day, however, I realized that I had reached my limit. Every day was flatline—the same (kind of) food, the same lighting, the same temperature… it was like my brain was shutting down. I finally understood the rumors I had heard. Living under quarantine in this hotel was just a little better than being in prison.

I’d seen stories on TV where girls get kidnapped and placed in confinement for years, and I suddenly felt that in some small way I could relate to those girls and women now. I had always wondered why they hadn’t bolted as soon as they had the tiniest window to escape, but if they felt anything like I did when I was in that hotel, I can see why they clearly did not have the mental capacity or good judgment that would make running away possible. They must have been in a state of shutdown where, far from being able to say what they wanted, they were just numb and apathetic towards everything. It’s terrifying to think about.

After hotel quarantine was over, we spent the next six days in quarantine at my childhood home.
After all this quarantining was over, I just felt that the government was wasting a massive amount of tax money with the mandatory two weeks of it. I just didn’t get it. Our entire hotel stay, drinks, food—all of it was paid for. It’s not that I’m ungrateful, it’s just that they had to throw away those untouched bento boxes, and in addition to the PCR test we took within 72 hours of boarding the flight, the negative results we got after arriving, and the two negative tests we took during hotel quarantine, we certainly had less chance of having covid than people walking around on the streets—and yet we were forced to stay in the hotel for a full week. Surely there needs to be a budget for border control measures, but couldn’t we give some of the money to people who were financially devastated by the pandemic? These are the thoughts that vaguely crossed my mind as I was mindlessly spending my days in that hotel room.

But the hardest thing for me going back home this time was the fear of catching the virus. Especially once we were within two weeks of our scheduled return date from Japan, I kept repeatedly warning my kids about it, going way overboard. If we get it now, we won’t be able to board the flight back to Portugal… I’ll have to go through all of that headache again with the airline… I just wanted to avoid the whole thing.
If we went out, we went by car. We never touched anything in public places. If we did, we always washed our hands. We were nervous wrecks, to the point we thought we’d go crazy—totally on edge. Living in that psychological state was definitely the worst part of the trip.

I’m going to have to go back again for a bit this summer, so I’m just praying that the pandemic travel restrictions will have let up by then.


  • Megumi Ota
  • JobConservator, interpreter, and coordinator / Insitu (restoration), Kaminari-sama / Novajika, and others

I’m a conservator and preservationist living in Portugal. I specialize primarily in paintings (murals) and gold leaf design, and am involved with UNESCO World Heritage structures as well as the interior of the Palace of Belém. I derive great satisfaction from having close ties to my community in the rural village near the Silver Coast where I live. My hobby is gardening.

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