Quick quiz: what do Julia Roberts, George Clooney, Nicole Kidman, Ed Sheeran, Lachlan and Sarah Murdoch, India’s cricket team and the New Zealand Warriors have in common?
Answer: after flying into Australia over the past 18 months, they’ve all managed to skip 14 days cooped in a Government-assigned quarantine hotel, escaping instead to plush penthouse apartments, sprawling private estates and luxury retreats.
Welcome to the rarified world of ‘alternative quarantine’.
While the Covid-19 pandemic decimated many businesses, it also created new opportunities – including five-star managed isolation for the rich, famous and influential who expect luxury and privacy in equal measure.
Quick off the mark was Australian firm 3rd Rock Ent, which provides private quarantine for high net-worth individuals as well as those in the film, television, media, festivals, and events industries.
3rd Rock Ent describes its services as being “a demonstrated turnkey solution that complies with the relevant state quarantine requirements, health directions, and international travel restrictions.”
“During Covid, we have been working with government agencies, key departments and the relevant decision makers in State Police on alternative quarantine solutions, to ensure zero risk, fully compliant operations,” the company promotes on its website.
Isolation for the A-listers
One of the first notable Australians to arrange alternative quarantine was Dannii Minogue.
Travelling from the United States to Brisbane in July 2020, Minogue and her son sequestered at a palatial Gold Coast home instead of a hotel room.
After some community backlash, it was revealed that Minogue had obtained an exemption from hotel quarantine on medical grounds.
The singer cited “crippling claustrophobia”, with medical professionals supporting this diagnosis as part of her home quarantine request to the Queensland Government.
“I took a lot of time to pull the whole thing together so that the Queensland Government were happy, the Queensland Health officials were happy, and that I’m happy,” Minogue commented at the time.
“I added extra things into (the quarantine plan) so I know that I can sleep at night. I wouldn't ask for ‘celebrity’ treatment or to have anything special granted.”
Minogue also stressed that she was subject to the same conditions as hotel quarantine, with no visitors permitted and multiple Covid tests taken across the fortnight.
The case for private quarantine
As you’d expect, private quarantine doesn’t come cheap – in fact, it’s many times the $2,500+ which returning travellers were charged for their 14-day stay at a hotel or dedicated quarantine facility.
Roberts, Clooney, Kidman, Minogue and co must cover the cost of on-site, round-the-clock security for 14 days: easily the biggest part of that expense, at a five-figure sum when using contracted staff.
In states where regulations require police to fill that role, costs can climb far higher: reportedly $100,000 in New South Wales for a typical two-week presence.
There’s also the bill for specialist cleaning and on-location Covid-19 testing.
In fact, a case can be made that selective private quarantine was better than shunting everybody into the hotel system.
Not only did it free up capacity in the public quarantine system, but people with the resources for private quarantine typically arrived into Australia on a private VIP jet, which also meant they weren’t taking up scarce seats on commercial or chartered repatriation flights which were subject to strict caps on the number of passengers.
So the outrage over celebs skipping hotel quarantine may well have been misplaced: after all, if money was no object, who wouldn’t want to swap the cramped confines of a hotel room for a sprawling villa with plenty of fresh air, a private gym and a swimming pool?
Reporting by Chris Chamberlin; editing by David Flynn