My search for a flight from London’s Heathrow Airport to Hong Kong on Friday November 13 was never about scoring a discount for travelling on a day associated with bad luck. No, the theory was that fewer passengers would mean more space and less chance of catching Covid-19. My plans were scuppered, however, when Boris Johnson announced a one-month lockdown in England , commencing on November 5. The British prime minister is gaining a reputation for U-turns and poorly implemented coronavirus policy, so despite reassurances that his latest stay-home order would be lifted on December 2, I wasn’t convinced. Nor, I later discovered, were lots of other people. I revised my departure date to November 4. This left me with just two working days to get organised. Booking the flight came first, as airlines allow free changes to reservations should passengers test positive before setting off. Next I contacted Collinson, who administer one-hour Covid-19 tests at Heathrow, then I hired a car to get from the English Midlands to London. The final task was to find a Hong Kong hotel that would accept 14-day quarantine refugees and also offer refunds for last-minute virus-related cancellations. This turned out to be something of a minefield until a friend directed me to the Facebook HK Quarantine Support Group, a 24,000-member forum packed with advice, and anecdotes, and sprinkled with a dash of humour (“My beard grew 2mm while waiting at Chek Lap Kok for our Covid results”). The subject of accommodation dominates the discussion threads. Some establishments won’t take quarantining passengers, others will but draw the line at those arriving from government-designated “high risk places”. For every returnee prepared to spend extra for a little luxury (“I am specifically after a hotel room with either a small garden or as a minimum a balcony”) there are others on far tighter budgets (“Does anyone know if we can be quarantined in a dorm?”). I began by browsing the less expensive options. It is the first and probably last time I’ll ever book a hotel room without considering the location or facilities, but swimming pools, restaurants and bars are out of bounds and there’s no need to be within walking distance of attractions. One-third of aviation routes have closed since Covid-19 decimated air travel My first choice ticked all the boxes, until forum contributors warned of an ant infestation and a corridor “very much reminiscent of The Shining !” I upped my budget and stumbled on a place in Kowloon that hit the sweet spot between cost and room size. The reviews were good, too. Best of all, there was an Indian restaurant on a nearby street that offered deliveries. I was all set. In London, I arrived at the Cathay Pacific desk, only to be directed back outside the terminal, where I found myself at the rear of a long line of shivering passengers waiting for their preflight Covid-19 test. I was not complaining, though; until that week, there was no such facility at the airport and travellers had to organise tests at their nearest private health care provider. I paid £80 (US$105) to have my tonsils and nostrils gently tickled by an extra-long Q-tip, then headed back into Terminal 2, which was by then packed to the rafters. The possibility that today’s flights might have been among the last to leave before Christmas had led to a mass evacuation, and it appeared that anywhere would do. It was definitely a good time to be leaving the UK – a total of 20,572 new cases were recorded on November 3, compared with nine in Hong Kong. In Britain, #WeWillNotComply was trending on Twitter, highlighting the difference in attitudes to mask wearing between the country I was leaving and the city I was heading to. Collinson emailed my test report (negative) and I was free to join an ever lengthening check-in queue. Despite the additional Covid-related paperwork, not to mention the upsurge in travellers, Cathay Pacific were on top of things and the procedure ran smoothly. A member of staff told me that, nowadays, around 80 passengers travel back to Hong Kong on each flight, although sometimes it’s less than half that number. As a result of the impending lockdown, there were 260 of us that day. I boarded flight CX252 along with about 259 returning students, some of whom emerged from the departure gate toilets dressed in plastic ponchos, rubber gloves and swimming goggles. I showed solidarity by squirting a few blobs of hand sanitiser here and there and tightening my mask. After the chaos of Heathrow, Chek Lap Kok was (painstakingly) organised and orderly. Our stop-start progression through the terminal building involved a succession of queues, QR codes and more paperwork than a stationery shop. My ID card had never before been exposed to so much light. We watched a video explaining how to self-administer the two Covid-19 tests and received a thermometer, as we’d need to report our temperature twice a day for the next two weeks. Despite landing at 9am, I was one of the last off the plane and didn’t get to cough up my first saliva sample until noon. After completing the second test, we were rewarded with sandwiches, biscuits and water, assigned a chair (G204 M14) and left to await the results. I was glad I had my laptop and Kindle. The CX252 group were notified at 7pm, ten hours after arriving in the terminal, and 35 hours since I left the English Midlands. We were shuttled by bus from our outlying gate to immigration and I was shocked at how we were packed in like sardines. Then I remembered that we’d all tested negative three times in 24 hours. After obediently doing exactly what I was told at every stage of the journey, the final leg to the hotel was completely unsupervised. I was allocated a deluxe king room which boasted TV, fast Wi-fi, a desk, kettle and even a sofa. There was a box of bottled water and enough tea bags, towels and toiletries to last a fortnight. A “do not disturb” sign hung on the door handle; oh the irony! The StayHomeSafe app prompted me to complete the “signal analysis procedure”, which involved pacing around, marking out the extremities of my temporary territory. I added a metre of the corridor as well, in case I should ever feel the urge to stand outside my door for a change of scenery. Then it was time to unpack and turn a hotel room into a home. At this point, I recalled a coronavirus meme that did the rounds during the first British national lockdown: “Your grandparents were called to war. You’re being asked to sit on the couch and watch TV. You can do this.” Well said. How difficult could it be to spend two weeks in a 26 square metre (280 sq ft) hotel room? Time flew at first. I busied myself with work, overdosed on Netflix and made inroads into a Kindle brimming with books. A YouTube search returned enough “small space workouts” to keep me occupied for a month and I skimmed lockdown articles with tips on how to make it through the day. These included getting up at the same time each morning, showering, dressing in casual work clothes and generally sticking to a routine. Seemed easy enough. By day four, I was waking at noon, slouching about in boxer shorts and living on Pringles. On day five, I prised the window open as wide as it will go (10cm) and took a few gulps of Hong Kong’s infamous air. On day six, I unlocked my door and peered down the corridor. There was nothing much to see but it was liberating all the same. On day 7, a friend dropped off a large bag of fruit; at least I won’t get scurvy now. According to the tally marks I’ve been carving into the wall, today is day 9. All is going well – so well, in fact, that I suspect I’m becoming institutionalised. Will I be able to adjust to the outside world upon my release? I’ve got used to the routine of reporting my temperature to reception twice daily and scanning my wristband QR code each day. (“Please verify your identity and keep within your designated quarantine location.”) I’ve still got plenty of cup noodles, tea bags and vitamin supplements. I think I might stay on here until Christmas.