This is a rare first-hand account of what it is like to serve a home quarantine order when a close family member comes down with the novel coronavirus. The contents of this article originated as a WhatsApp text message which was widely circulated this morning (March 19). It was allegedly written by the father of Case 100, a 20 year-old male Malaysian national who was linked to the cluster at WizLearn Technologies. The writer and his wife were ordered to serve a quarantine at home after their son was confirmed to have been infected with Covid-19 on February 28. His writing has been edited for grammar, style and clarity.

Since Covid-19 is something new to us and it is spreading like wildfire, I thought it will benefit many by sharing what I have learnt from my personal experience. Some of you might have known that my son is Case 100. He has recovered and has returned home on March 14.

My wife and I have also completed our 14-day quarantine order last Friday (March 13).

My son will be entering the university in August. As he was bored at home, he took up a part-time job at WizLearn Technologies. He was supposed to work until the end of February. As fate would have it, he became one of the luckiest guys in Singapore.

How Case 100 came to be

On Wed (February 26), my son was informed that someone in the building had contracted Covid-19. All the staff in his office were told to work from home from the following day. The next day in the evening, he told us he had a mild fever. We gave him some Panadol tablets and he went to bed. The following morning, he said he still had a fever, so we asked him to visit a general practitioner (GP) a few blocks away from our home.

During his visit, he told the GP about his colleague at WizLearn. The GP did an influenza test on him which turned out to be negative. Thirty minutes after he got home, the Ministry of Health (MOH) called him and told him that an ambulance would be sent to fetch him to the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID) to be tested (if this was not efficiency, I don’t know what it was!). 

At the NCID, they did a nasal swab test at about 3pm. They told us he would be admitted for the night for observation and a subsequent test would be done the next morning. We were allowed to bring some clothing and personal belongings to him. MOH told us that we could only do this once. We were not allowed to see him. So we left the bag at the reception. MOH started contact tracing that very evening. My son told us to expect a call from MOH the next morning.

On Saturday morning (February 28), my son called us and told us that NCID had confirmed that he had tested positive for Covid-19. Within hours, MOH and subsequently, Cisco contacted us regarding the quarantine order. Two Cisco officers and a nurse came to our house to issue us the quarantine orders. The nurse handed us a thermometer and two face masks each. We were given a form to record our body temperature three times a day. The Cisco officers explained the conditions of the quarantine order to us in detail. Surprisingly, he was not able to answer several of our questions. He had to call his boss to seek clarification. He did tell us that the rules and regulations from MOH kept changing from time to time.

How quarantined individuals are monitored

Here are some of the things we have learnt from the quarantine order:

(1) It was actually 13 days (not 14). Our quarantine order started on Saturday February 28, at 12 pm and it ended on Friday March 13, 12pm. We assumed that the 14 days started on the last day we saw our son, which was on February 28 (last contact date). (note from editor: 14 days is correct, not 13 days)

(2) The government quarantine facility is only available to people who rent a room or stay in a dormitory. MOH will assess the application on case-by-case basis. 

(3) MOH only provides food to those who stay in the government quarantine facility. For the rest of us quarantined at home, we have to depend on ourselves for our meals. This group will be lucky if they have kind neighbours, relatives or friends who are free and not working to send them food. Of course, the quarantine officers told us we could always order food from GrabFood and Deliveroo (expensive suggestion!). 

(4) Each day, we received three WhatsApp video calls from an MOH officer. On certain days, we received two video calls and a surprise home visit by a Cisco officer. They called to check our body temperature and also to check if we were experiencing any symptoms. On the first day, they had asked us to show them three locations in our house which would be used to identify our home and ensure that we are staying in. The video calls were made by different people every time. Sometimes, it was a man. Sometimes, it was a lady. We could hear their voices but could not see their faces. (We were always shown colourful walls and ceilings.) It was very inconvenient. Sometimes, they called us at 7am when we were still sleeping.

NEA will issue Clorox; but you will have to clean your own home

On the same day we received the order, we were visited by an officer from the National Environment Agency (NEA). He issued us a bottle of Clorox, one face mask and a pair of gloves. An officer also called us later to inform us that they would provide a one time disposal of bio-hazardous waste. We were expecting someone from NEA to clean and disinfect our house. As it turned out, we were told to do it ourselves (hahaha).

My two other sons (the younger brothers of Case 100) stayed with us throughout our quarantine order. They usually stay in the dorm at Anglo-Chinese School (Independent) (ACSI) from Monday to Friday. MOH contacted ACSI during contact tracing and the school sent them home on leave of absence (LOA) (they have no other place to go to) until further notice. They were not served any quarantine orders as the last time they saw their eldest brother was on Sunday, February 23, when he had not shown any symptoms. Under the conditions of the LOA, they were allowed to go out for short durations to pack food. They became our personal GrabFood.

Case 100’s road to recovery and eventual discharge from NCID

My son (Case 100) had a bit of cough and a serious sore throat after his admission. However, throughout his admission, he was only given cough medicine and some lozenges. No other medication at all. Thankfully, he recovered on Sunday, March 1 (on the third day of his admission). My son’s symptoms were confined to only mild fever and three days of sore throat (making him one of the 80% of Covid-19 patients who only show mild symptoms). But he would only be discharged once he got two consecutive “negative” test results from his nasal swab.

Finally, he got his “negative” results on Friday, March 13, and Saturday, March 14. Upon discharge, the doctor told him that he now had zero chance of being re-infected as his body has already developed strong antibodies against the virus. It means that he can walk out freely without wearing a mask. We are so envious of him. He said it was his reward after spending 16 days in isolation, eating only boiled and steamed food (not even one meal was served with fried food). He even went to the USS yesterday and told us that “there is no queue on any of the rides!”

Important lessons from the quarantine experience

I have learnt three important lessons from Covid-19:

(1) Freedom is something we always take for granted until you lose it. Cherish your freedom. You never know when you will be served a quarantine order.

(2) Hoarding is not a stupid thing to do. My wife had always insisted we must have all the basic necessities, groceries and cleaning agents stored away, in case of emergencies. Not to mention, our three-tiered freezer was filled to the brim with frozen food. This availed us the welcome option of fresh home-cooked meals.

(3) Thank God for the internet. Otherwise, we would have been bored to death. 

How you can help someone you know who is under quarantine

We are thankful for supportive family and friends who check in on us daily.

We also appreciate
(1) the management of Mediacorp for showering us with support and care. Thank you for the food hamper.
(2) Malaysia Embassy who called my son personally and told him that help and support is just a phone call away.
(3) Ministry of Social and Family Development who sent us an SMS to ask whether we needed any financial assistance during our quarantine period.
(4) the teachers of ACSI who brought us fruits, tarts and cakes.
(5) the student support of SUSS who sent us a couple of eCards.

All these small little things made a big difference during difficult times.

It seems like Covid-19 is not going away soon. Please adhere to all the health and travel advisories by the Singapore government. Do check your email regularly for any updates by (y)our Workplace Safety and Health council committee.

Practise social distancing. Stay safe and stay home as much as you can.