'It was like being in Contagion': Briton tested for coronavirus reveals 'surreal' hospital quarantine

Craig Dillon
Craig Dillon was admitted to hospital after returning from China where he was on holiday - © Eddie Mulholland

When I was quarantined with suspected coronavirus it was like being in a scene from Contagion, the Hollywood blockbuster starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Jude Law.

It all happened so quickly. One minute I was phoning 111, the next I was walking down a corridor into quarantine. 

I had returned from a holiday in Australia via China, and despite thinking I might have flu I managed to make it into work on Tuesday, at my digital media agency in Westminster on Tuesday, and even met with a few MPs in parliament.

Then all of a sudden on Tuesday night, I woke up sweating and couldn’t breathe. On Wednesday morning I called 111 and about 10 minutes into the conversation they asked: “Have you been to China recently?”

As soon as I said I had, they wanted to call an ambulance but as I live close to St Thomas’s Hospital I said I would get there myself.

Craig admitted himself to hospital after he woke up sweating and struggling to breathe Credit: Craig Dillon

When I arrived I was so weak I had to lean against the wall.

This doctor asked if I was okay and when I replied: “I’m feeling really ill, I just came back from China,” he literally grabbed me by the arm and led me back outside the hospital.

A nurse came out and gave me a mask and then I was shown to this secret door around the back. 

I was told to walk down the corridor and arrived in this hospital room with a bed in the middle with all this equipment around it - completely prepped and ready to go.

It had a big one-way glass window with an intercom in it so you could talk through the glass.

I was feeling so bad I was curled up on the bed and all I could hear was this vacuum cleaner noise.

Craig said he faced an anxious three-hour wait for test results at St Thomas' Hospital Credit: Craig Dillon

I later realised it was the doctor and nurse putting their isolation suits on. I could hear them saying things like: ‘Gloves? Check’. It was surreal. 

Then suddenly the glass went from being one way to two way and all these people were staring at me.

The doctor and nurse came in wearing all this gear like they were walking on the moon. Their voices were muffled and I was delirious so I didn’t really understand what was going on.

Suddenly I had canulas in both hands and blood was being taken. It was only when they said they had to send it on a motorbike to test for coronavirus that I started getting worried.

Until that point I was just sort of in denial.

They also put swabs up each nostril and took swabs from the back of my throat.

They put each one in a small plastic bag and then dunked it in this chlorine like solution to disinfect it before passing it back through the airlock.

Craig was told it was unlikely he had coronavirus but that doctors could not rule it out Credit: Craig Dillon

When they wrote notes they would hold them up against the glass so the people outside could read them.

Because St Thomas’s is a teaching hospital I kept on seeing lots of curious faces at the window - I felt like an exhibit. There was even a security guard at the door with a walkie talkie.

The doctor later told me I was the first person in the UK to be tested. It was an anxious three hour wait for the results.

Although they said they couldn’t rule it out, it was unlikely I had coronavirus. I was so relieved, even when a later CT scan and X ray revealed I had pneumonia, which is quite serious. I was discharged at 9pm.

I first started feeling unwell when I arrived in Thailand earlier this month having spent Christmas with relatives in Australia.

I knew about the coronavirus because I had travelled to Bangkok on South China Airways via Guangzhou airport, where I was laid over for eight hours.

Craig said he hoped to return to work in Westminster on Monday Credit: Craig Dillon

Everyone was wearing masks except me but I couldn't buy one at the airport because they'd all sold out. 

I thought I might have flu because I had a bad cough and was feeling weak and tired but I put it down to jetlag.

I had twice been evacuated by the bush fires while I was staying with my family in New South Wales so I wondered if the smoke inhalation had affected my lungs. 

By the time I travelled back to Australia via China, I was worried the body scanners at the airport might pick up my worsening fever so I hung around outside in a t-shirt to cool down.

I was made to walk through twice because my temperature was 38 degrees. 

I dosed myself up on the flight home from Australia and when I landed back at Heathrow on Monday there were no checks.

Craig Dillon, 27, is the founder of media agency Westminster Digital