Covid-19: A day in the life of a Malaysian under quarantine

Make your bed and you’d have accomplished your first task of the day – Pictures by CK Lim
Make your bed and you’d have accomplished your first task of the day – Pictures by CK Lim

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KUALA LUMPUR, April 16 — And now our quarantine has begun.

But what does life under quarantine look like for someone who has just come home from abroad? Here’s a day in the life of one Malaysian returnee me.

Wake up. Brush teeth, shower, make bed.

That last one is a must, even during non-quarantine situations. In his 2014 commencement address to the graduates of the University of Texas, Admiral William H. McRaven advised, “If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.”

Complete this mundane activity and we’d have accomplished our first task of the day. For many of us under lockdown or quarantine, it will be a long day ahead so every bit counts.

McRaven also said, “Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter. If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right.”

Little things include bringing in the breakfast that the quarantine staff have kindly placed on a chair outside my room. I put it aside to eat later.

Breakfast and lunch supplied by the hotel (quarantine centre)
Breakfast and lunch supplied by the hotel (quarantine centre)

The first big thing is to call my parents to see how they are. Familial bonds can grow stronger in times of adversity; parents also have a way of making you laugh that no one else can.

For one, they’ll always think of me as seven years old. Times like these, I don’t mind.

I start working. This is the hard part for most of my friends, stuck at home during Movement Control Order (MCO) lockdown. I don’t even have my laptop with me. However, I find all I really need is my phone, a paper notebook and a pen.

Paper and pen: sometimes that’s all you need to keep yourself occupied
Paper and pen: sometimes that’s all you need to keep yourself occupied

Human beings are marvellous creatures when it comes to adapting. Hooray us!

An officer from the Ministry of Health (MOH) calls up via the room phone. He asks me, “Encik sihat hari ini? Ada gejala demam, batuk atau sesak nafas?” (“How are you feeling today, sir? Any symptoms of fever, cough or difficulty in breathing?”)

They politely ask me the same things every day. It’s repetitive and endearing. Each call is a reminder someone cares.

I take a break to do some stretching. Else I’d be at the desk all day. Reminder to self: We should all do this even when it’s not a global pandemic.

The desk beckons. Back to the work.

Some exercise before lunch. Push ups, air squats, planks — any bodyweight-only exercises that can be performed within the confines of a hotel room.

Exercise helps bolster our immunity, which is so key during the viral outbreak.

A few days ago, a team of doctors from MOH had visited our floor, taking turns to take swabs from our throats. It’s part of the Covid-19 screening process as we are recent returnees from abroad.

Lunchtime. I take both meals (including breakfast from earlier) and have a large post-workout meal.

You can call it intermittent fasting. I call it “making quarantine meals fun.” My version comes with a childish, gleeful grin.

Work continues. Through the magic of WhatsApp and Facetime, I co-ordinate a virtual photoshoot with my fellow quarantine mate (who’s in a separate room, of course) and favourite photographer of all time.

Art direction is a fancy way of saying I don’t know how to use a camera myself.

Another break. (Plenty of these during quarantine. Or just one long break if you’re unable to work given the circumstances.)

I look out the window. Didn’t realise the city centre has so many pockets of green. Or flocks of birds, graceful in mid-flight.

Back to work.

Teatime! I make a mug of Milo and dip some biscuits in it. I’m that seven-year-old kid again.

Teatime can be flashback to one’s childhood
Teatime can be flashback to one’s childhood
The speakers crackle. Time for the daily announcement which goes along the lines of “Welcome to our hotel, dear quarantine guests. Please be reminded to stay in your individual rooms at all times ”

This is announced first in English, then Malay, finally Mandarin. I’m proud that the speaker is trilingual and fluent. Malaysia Boleh!

More emails and phone calls. The speed of replies drop noticeably. It’s coming to the end of the work day.

I remember that I’m under quarantine and the fact I can have a work day is very fulfilling. We take any pleasures we can when we see the same four walls day after day.

I watch the sunset.

Dinnertime. There’s fruit, too. Work is put away at last. Time for YouTube.

(No, I don’t have a Netflix subscription and somehow I’m surviving, thank you very much. I swear all my friends are Netflix evangelists; I tell them bingeing does not count as an extra-curricular activity.)

I throw the remaining rubbish into the yellow plastic biohazard waste bag given to us. It’s a sobering reminder that, no, I’m not just working from home.

During quarantine, all rubbish is disposed of in the biohazard waste bags provided
During quarantine, all rubbish is disposed of in the biohazard waste bags provided

This is a quarantine and everyone outside my room door is attired in PPE (personal protective equipment) gear for their own safety and mine.

I tie up the bag and place it outside my room, being careful not to step outside.

Brush teeth, shower, get ready for bed. FaceTime with a loved one, return to a bookmarked page in a dog-eared book: it’s time for winding down.

Lights out. Tomorrow will be another day of quarantine. Rinse and repeat.

#StayAtHome #KitaJagaKita

For a complete and updated list of ‘Stranded in Auckland’ and ‘Life Under Quarantine’ stories, visit