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When the Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) agreement between Singapore and South Korea was signed last October, it got many Singaporeans excited to finally have a taste of travel again.

A Singaporean woman and her family had planned for an eight-day vacation to South Korea, from Dec 4 to 11 last year. 

However, it turned out to be a 26-day stay after she and her 12-year-old son tested positive for Covid-19 in Seoul. Her husband, who tested negative, had to self isolate for an extra seven days in South Korea.

The additional expenses amounted to about $7,000, almost double the initial $8,000 they’d planned for the trip.

The 40-year-old woman, who was given the pseudonym ‘Cheryl’ in the 8days report, told the magazine of her ordeal in Seoul, beginning with the jarring difference between pre-pandemic and post-pandemic travel. 

“A lot of the shops are closed. Even Myeongdong was so quiet. Petit France used to be very crowded. When we were there, it was so quiet.”

(Here are “Quaint Places In Seoul To Escape The Touristy Spots“)

The sales manager added that they were careful wherever they went, avoiding crowded places and making sure to sanitise their hands. “Even when we were shopping in supermarkets, we’d sanitise the shopping cart,” she shared with 8days.

Despite taking these measures to avoid the virus, her son tested positive for Covid-19 during their pre-departure antigen rapid test (ART) at Incheon Airport.

This was just hours before they were to check in for their flight back home.

Cheryl recalled that two days before, the boy had symptoms such as fever, runny nose and a slight cough, but didn’t think it would be Covid-19. 

The family did not board their flight and were panicking at the airport, not knowing where to go or what to do.

They eventually found a nearby hotel and went for an additional polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test at a local hospital, after queuing outside for three hours in sub-zero temperatures. 

A day later, Cheryl tested positive while her husband was still negative. She described having a fever of 38.5 degrees and a bad headache which lasted for a week. 

But she brushed it off as a cold she could have caught from queueing outdoors for three hours in freezing temperatures for the PCR test.

Cheryl added that she lost her sense of smell and her nose felt “forever congested”. She also coughed a lot, “like I was coughing out my lungs”.

The couple decided that her husband would fly home first but he found out at the airport that he could not do so, as seven days had not passed since his last contact with a positive Covid-19 case.

On her end, Cheryl was struggling to figure out what to do next.

She regretted not buying a local SIM card, as the numerous calls she made with her Singapore line amounted to approximately $800.

Eventually, after seeking help from the Singapore embassy, both mother and son were sent to a treatment centre in Seoul for nine days.

(Read also “What A Hotel Quarantine With My Son Taught Me“)

Cheryl, who lost 6kg from the whole experience, recalled that the meals provided were “really good”. However, she did not eat much as she had lost her sense of taste and smell.

After being discharged, mother and son still could not return to Singapore due to Covid-19 regulations at that time. That meant another five days in South Korea.

Cheryl ordered only room service and the pair had all their meals in the hotel room during those five days, as she did not want to risk catching the Omicron virus if they were to go out.

This set them back over $100 a day, on top of the $200 per night room charge they had to fork out.

Cheryl managed to book flight tickets home but had one final hurdle to clear, the pre-departure ART test. They eventually cleared it after a stressful, two-hour wait.

“When the results came back negative, I hugged my son so tightly. We could finally go home,” Cheryl told 8days.

They had a smooth journey home but there was still the daunting task of claiming insurance. 

In total, the family racked up about $7,000 worth of additional expenses of which Cheryl said they had received a payout of more than 60 percent of their expenses.

She went on to say that she did not expect their first trip in two years to be such a disaster, adding that her son and husband have been “very traumatised” by the incident and would not want to travel “until all the mandatory tests and quarantines are lifted”.

This article was first published in AsiaOne.