PEOPLE’S much-anticipated vacations ground to a screeching halt after travel restrictions and border shutdowns took place globally amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
This forced holidaymakers to return home and carry out a 14-day self-quarantine and isolate themselves from everyone, including their own family members.
It was a stressful situation for many returning home, from rescheduling their flights, sitting through a plane ride with possible infections and getting past immigration checkpoints to making arrangements to isolate from family members at home.
This was made harder for those living alone as they had to sort out buying food and essential household items.
The start of Malaysia’s movement control order (MCO) from March 18 to 31, which was then extended to April 14, prohibited mass movements and gatherings nationwide to contain the coronavirus.
StarMetro spoke to some travellers who were affected in one way or another due to the MCO and the lockdown in other countries.
Help from family, friends
Retiree Betty Hooi, 66, who lives with her two sisters in Petaling Jaya, had to cancel her 10-day holiday in Morocco, which she planned since last August, when the government suspended all travel arrangements and countries started to close their borders.
“The first thing I told my sisters was to keep our distance from each other.
“I did all the sanitising at home. We ate our meals separately and retreated to our own rooms during the day.
“We don’t have a problem with food supply because we stocked up on dry and canned food much earlier, ” she said.
Hooi is also a gardening enthusiast and grows her own vegetables at her friend’s community farm nearby her house.
“I grow my own herbs at home too, so I don’t have to worry about queuing up at the supermarket, ” she said.
Curves Malaysia fitness coach Carol Leong, 37, from Damansara Jaya who returned from holidaying with her friends in Koh Lipe, Thailand, had to manage her self-quarantine at home, away from her elderly parents as much as possible.
“We don’t eat together and use separate utensils. Maintaining our distance from each other is important, ” she said.
A friend of Leong’s also helped her buy essential groceries for the household and left them by the front gate.
“She bought us eggs, bread, onions, bananas and chillies. This really helped us during the MCO, ” she added.
For singleton Farina Hashim, 41, her European holiday with friends to celebrate her birthday was eventful despite the border closures.
“We were mostly in Spain, and our trip to France had to be cancelled.
“After flight cancellations, dropping our rental car in Seville and contacting the Malaysian embassy in Madrid and London, our last four nights were spent in London before we flew back to Kuala Lumpur, ” she said.
Prior to her trip, Farina left her house keys with a colleague who bought groceries for her as the MCO was already enforced when Farina landed in Kuala Lumpur on March 22.
“My family was worried because there were already a few Covid-19 cases in Spain when I was there.
“By the time we drove back to Seville, there was already a lockdown in Spain, ” she said.
Over in the United Kingdom, all Malaysian businessman Ridzuan Nor wanted to do was to leave the country the moment news of the pandemic broke.
“I pulled my children out of boarding school to return home because if there was a lockdown, we would be better off surrounded by family and a good support system in Malaysia.
“Healthcare was also an issue, especially for expats, ” said the 40-year-old who worked in the UK.
Ridzuan was lucky as his family in Malaysia managed to buy groceries for them, including essential goods.
“When we arrived, we had fresh food supplies and medicine, ” he said.
Ridzuan, his wife and children tested negative for Covid-19 and now spend their days practising social distancing.
His son, Zaryl, 15, and daughter, Lara, 11, spend their days at home playing piano and painting.
It was only until M. Shamini’s 21-year-old daughter Laxmi (not her real name) stepped into their living room in Bukit Damansara, Kuala Lumpur, that she allowed herself to cry.
They were not tears of anguish, but of joy and relief to have her youngest child home, safe and sound.
The 45-year-old mother of two’s nightmare started almost two weeks ago when the world went into panic mode from the Covid-19 outbreak and the troubles she faced getting her daughter out of Grenada, an island in the Caribbean.
The morning of March 11, Shamini received a call from Laxmi, who is studying at St George’s University in Grenada, informing her that the university had asked all students to return home as they were shutting down due to the pandemic.
“I am relieved that my daughter finally made it home safely, but the ordeal we went through to fly her home was a nightmare, ’’ Shamini said.
The university had chartered a plane for its American students, who made up 90% of the student population to fly back to the United States, which is a four- to six-hour journey depending on their destination.
But the remaining 10% of the students were locals and foreign students from other parts of the world, and Laxmi was the only Malaysian.
The other problem was there were only two flights a week flying out of Grenada to Kuala Lumpur, via London.
“The earliest flight we could take on March 14 was fully booked, so Laxmi had to stay back until the next flight on March 18, ” said Shamini.
Before the night Laxmi was scheduled to fly out, the Grenada government announced it was closing its borders on March 18 at midnight.
“People were already panic buying, the shops were empty and her university mates had left a day earlier.
“I feared for her safety because she would have been alone and stranded with no food supply for God knows how long, ” Shamini said.
To make matters worse, 10 minutes before Laxmi’s departure from Grenada’s Maurice Bishop International Airport, she received an email from British Airways informing her that her connecting flight from Gatwick Airport in England to Kuala Lumpur was cancelled.
The journey from Maurice Bishop to Gatwick Airport was an 11-hour journey with transit at St Lucia airport in the Caribbean.
“My daughter was frantic and scared.
“It was 4am Malaysian time and I had to find Laxmi another flight back home, otherwise she would have had to stay a day in the airport, ” she said, adding that all the call centres were closed.
“I tried every airline but most were no longer flying except Malaysia Airlines and Emirates.
“Malaysia Airlines only had seats available in business class for RM31,000, ” added Shamini.
Luck was finally on Laxmi’s side when Shamini managed to book an economy class seat on Emirates for March 20.
Laxmi spent the night at a hotel nearby.
“During the flight, everyone was wearing face masks and at least 20 passengers were wearing full Hazmat suits.
“She was sandwiched between two passengers in hazmat suits, so I guess at that moment she was safe from catching anything.
After a four-hour transit in Dubai, Laxmi reached Kuala Lumpur International Airport at 2pm on March 21.
“She has been on self-quarantine and is studying online for now, ” Shamini said, thankful that her daughter was safe and able to continue with her studies from home.
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