A Nova Scotia woman is warning people about the hazards of travelling internationally during a global spike in COVID-19 cases fuelled by the Omicron variant.
Brittany MacKeigan, who is double vaccinated, said she felt safe travelling to Thailand over the holidays until a positive COVID-19 test landed her in quarantine, away from her travel partner, some 13,000 kilometres from home.
"Don't do it. Don't travel during ... a heightened outbreak, because it causes nothing but issues," said the Sydney woman, who remained in Thailand as of Monday.
"If I knew what I know now, I would never have left Canada."
MacKeigan arrived in Thailand on Christmas Day to visit her cousin, Taylor Hoban, who works in the country as a teacher and would otherwise have been alone for the holidays.
The Canadian government renewed its advisory against non-essential international travel on Dec. 15 as Omicron cases surged, after quietly lifting the advisory in October.
Felt reassured by precautions
MacKeigan said she felt safe going to Thailand because all visitors are tested for COVID-19 upon landing and anyone wishing to travel through the Phuket region, where she intended to travel, had to be double vaccinated.
Like many other Canadians during the pandemic, MacKeigan had lost money after cancelling a previous vacation and did not want to call off another trip. She said keeping her cousin company over Christmas seemed like a good enough reason to travel.
But when the cousins made their way to the island of Koh Phangan on MacKeigan's fifth day in the country, they were asked to take another COVID-19 test. Hoban was negative, but MacKeigan — who had no symptoms — tested positive.
She and her cousin were taken away in an ambulance before being separated. MacKeigan quarantined in a locked room without air conditioning in a building next to a hospital.
"I get into the room, I put my bag in there and then I can hear 'click, click' behind me," said MacKeigan, who stayed in the room for almost two days and had no contact with anyone, except during food deliveries.
'Absolutely no communication'
Hoban, who had yet to test positive, was taken to what MacKeigan described as a "COVID house" to isolate.
She said Hoban was placed with people who had tested positive, and MacKeigan didn't understand why the two weren't kept together.
"We were both in situations which nobody was communicating to us.... they were very, very uncomfortable situations to be in," MacKeigan said.
"I had absolutely no communication with the outside world."
MacKeigan said after nearly two days, and with the help of Hoban's Bangkok teaching agency, the two were reunited and sent to a "hospital hotel" — a set of private bungalows with other travellers who were isolating. Hoban had tested positive by then.
MacKeigan was released from hospital Monday and hopes to fly home in the next few days. She said she had to pay 67,000 baht or about $2,500 Cdn.
She said her insurance company will cover the cost of her stay, but she has to pay out of pocket to leave. She said the government told her she needed chest X-rays before she was discharged, despite not having any symptoms.
MacKeigan said she tried to contact the Canadian Embassy, but it was closed to all but emergency situations over the New Year's holiday.
"I couldn't get through to the embassy through regular means until [after New Year's]. And they got back to me right away and they were fantastic," she said.
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