It was just before three on a Friday afternoon on 23 April. Perth was gearing up for a big weekend of dining, wining and sport at the AFL Western Derby, while I was up for a relaxing weekend break at the city’s recently refurbished Parmelia Hilton hotel.
We had been checked in by the hotel's extremely helpful front desk staff, offered a complimentary drink while waiting for the room to be prepared, and admired the lobby’s stunning artwork, part of the A$45 million (US$35 million) that was invested to herald a new era for Perth’s oldest luxury hotel.
What could possibly go wrong?
Plenty. None of which, I hasten to add, was within the control of the Hilton.
Forewarned that the premier of Western Australia was about to hold a media conference, we were expecting just one thing: lockdown.
Sure enough, within 10 minutes of entering our room, before we had unpacked our cases, we switched on the television to watch the WA premier announce a three-day lockdown.
There was a single case of Covid transmission in the Perth community and the premier was taking no chances with a spread of the virus. On 1 May, that number rose to three new cases.
Everyone in the city and adjacent region was told to stay home from midnight. Restaurants could serve takeaway meals only. Clubs and casino would shut the doors for 72 hours. Live music was silenced.
Reluctant to be cocooned for three days, we left the champagne on ice in the room, grabbed the cases and headed for front desk, where other guests were also working out how they might cope with the disruption to their lives caused by the sudden lockdown.
Restaurant bookings needed to be cancelled, catch ups with friends postponed, indoor and outdoor events shut down and sporting events given the go ahead without crowds. A crowd cap of 45,000 — or 75% capacity — had previously been allowed for the AFL Western Derby, that is, until the latest Covid-19 cases were discovered.
Obligingly, the Hilton staff was doing its best to assist guests who had been caught on the hop, a dilemma heightened by the fact that other Australian states quickly declared Perth a hotspot. Some of those flying east across Australia were facing up to 14 days hotel quarantine in their home states at their own expense.
This wasn’t the first sudden Covid-induced lockdown in Perth and once again it was the hospitality industry that bore the brunt of the economic damage, which the local hotels’ association estimates at A$40 million.
An events organiser whose business has been crippled by Covid lockdowns in the past 12 months, told the ABC, “We are all emotionally exhausted. You literally don't know what's around the corner. I get it's a pandemic, but the stress that you live with every day, it's hard work."
By comparison, our lost weekend was insignificant.
And no doubt we’ll be back at the Parmelia Hilton soon.