Quarantine is a tough experience, physically and mentally. But some Macao residents have been able to change their perspective, approaching it like an opportunity to challenge themselves. We spoke to Michael Keen, an Australian gaming manufacturing executive, who has lived in Macao for the past 14 years. He travelled to Las Vegas for three months on a work trip, then faced a 21-day hotel quarantine this June on the way back to Macao.
Ever the optimist, Keen decided to set himself a target of walking or running 200 kilometres in his room at the Grand Coloane Resort during his stay to stay active and positive. Here, Keen shares his story:
“When I first arrived in Las Vegas in April, masks were mandatory when you were inside. In supermarkets, you were forced to go in one direction down the aisles, they had floor markings for social distancing, and six people max could dine together at restaurants.
“But after about three or four weeks of being there, they lifted the restrictions. Those who were vaccinated didn’t have to wear a mask. And by the time I left, it was just a free-for-all – people were out partying every night.
“I went from freedom in the US, where no one really cares about Covid, to the extreme caution of Macao. It was very strange. In Macao, we’ve been much stricter but the government has done a good job at controlling the virus.
“Due to the nature of my job, the travel restrictions probably affected me more than those who don’t really need to leave Macao. On arrival from the US, I got picked up on the tarmac, brought to a bus, taken to the ferry pier and processed. You have a Covid-19 test, a blood test, and then wait eight hours. Then it’s 21 days in a hotel. I was at the Grand Coloane, which has actually been pretty good. I was able to open the window, and having fresh air helped tremendously, it didn’t feel so much like a cell.
“I knew I would have to do 21 days when I left for the US, so I was resigned to that fact. I bought simple things like a Bluetooth speaker so I could have music in the room and hooked up my iPad to every sport in the world to make the stay more enjoyable.
“I also stayed really active, rather than sitting around moping and getting bored. After reading The Macao News story about Estera [Deunier], the hotel’s general manager challenged me to walk 150 kilometres in my room. I had already been walking during long work calls and was racking up the kilometres. Yesterday, I had a very good day – I walked 17.9 kilometres or 21,722 steps.
“So I challenged myself to 200 kilometres, which I completed by walking or running around the room. In the end, I ran or walked 210.9km in total. I liked the sound of doing five full marathons at 42.19km each.
“I did the majority of it barefoot but I noticed my ankles started to click a bit more than they should. It was the sharp left-hand turns. I try to mix it up, but it’s hard since I am pretty much going towards the door then back towards the living room over and over again.
“It’s like being in captivity, where you see animals in their small cages going back and forth along the front of the bars. I kind of felt like that some days.
“I think people get into the mindset that quarantine is a negative but if you try and make it a positive experience, it’s going to be completely different from someone who wants to fight the system.
“It’s very easy to be short with people outside when you feel like you’re trapped and you get the health department checking on your temperature every day and Covid tests once a week. But it’s a chance to read new books, watch a movie or a series that you never got around to finishing. I watched a bit of sport, which gave me something to look forward to on the weekends, and a little TV but not much. I finally watched ‘Ozark’, which had been highly recommended, and a couple of stand-up comedy sets to brighten the mood, too.
“That said, it was really good to get out and see the family. I have one daughter who is 4.5 years old. During quarantine, we FaceTimed morning and night, sometimes during the day, and I read her stories. It was good to be in the same time zone.
“She had a little calendar that she counted down on, crossing off each day until I could go home. My mum and sisters in Australia sent little parcels to her, and she opened one every two days. On the last day, I was the parcel when I came out of quarantine.
“Escaping felt pretty surreal. It was great to be back but at the same time, I’m fortunate to have been able to travel and have a change of scenery. I sincerely feel for those currently in Macao, some away from their immediate family and others who just need to get out.
“It seems to have affected people in different ways. The first thing I did was hug the family – something I had missed immensely.”
This interview has been edited.