After two years spent enduring rolling lockdowns and missing travel, Sydney woman Sonia Mehta*, 25, was eager to begin 2022 on her first solo trip overseas.
And so she decided to take a calculated risk and booked a trip to Fiji.
"I felt like if I didn't get the trip in now, I would have had to push it back," she tells news.com.au.
"Like a lot of people, I had been feeling quite a lot of cabin fever and wanted to do something big for myself.
"That justified my decision to go travelling overseas."
Landing in Nadi – a city on Fiji's main island of Viti Levu – on Tuesday, January 4, Mehta said the first few days of her holiday were as she had hoped.
"We took a boat to a bar called Cloud Nine which was in the middle of the ocean and it was absolutely beautiful," she says.
"You got to see the vast beauty of the blue waters and there was so much greenery on the islands. The water was aquamarine and turquoise, it was like nothing I had ever seen before."
However, just before she flew from Sydney to Fiji, Mehta says a friend who had fallen ill with Covid warned her to "take caution".
At the time infections in Fiji were increasing by 200 to 600 cases a day, however, numbers weren't even close to that of NSW which was recording record-breaking figures between 20,000 to 30,000.
"It wasn't Covid-zero and I don't think any place is Covid-zero unless they're in a complete lockdown, but it seemed fairly safe," Mehta recalls.
The island country had implemented Covid-safety protocols like vaccine checks and check-in requirements, but compliance varied.
"I will say that not every place I visited checked I was vaccinated and they didn't enforce check-ins so there was a bit of laxness," she says.
"I think it was a little bit more lax than Sydney, however with those policies and the low number of cases, I felt safe enough to travel because I had been so cautious in Sydney.
"I also knew I'd be cautious in Fiji and would take enough considered risks and had packed enough KN96 disposable masks."
'Placed into an isolation room with no windows'
Then she began experiencing symptoms. On day four (Saturday) of her trip, Mehta noticed she was unusually tired during the day and while she blamed that up to a restless night, she noticed sleep wasn't easing her fatigue.
Then a persistent headache crept in, followed by sneezing, a worsening cough, fever and night sweats.
A rapid test on her fifth day (Sunday) in Fiji confirmed she had Covid-19.
"I did a rapid test once I reached my third hotel, and it obviously came back positive," she said.
Mehta was also moved into an isolation room for two nights, which was a downgrade from her two-bedroom apartment. She was then moved to a self-contained apartment with a kitchen, microwave and fridge, which she says gave her more autonomy.
"It didn't have any windows that opened and I didn't have a kitchen so I had to call every two hours and request for food, snacks and water," she says.
"I felt quite at the mercy of the hotel owner and while they were quite helpful, I'm not sure they had dealt with an isolation case before because they were quite stressed."
The addition of Tropical Cyclone Cody and subsequent flooding presented another challenge. The weather event resulted in restaurant chaos, road closures and Mehta believes it also contributed to the delay in receiving her PCR test results, which took five days.
"Nadi's town had been flooded for three days and a lot of people couldn't get in or out, so the hotel was short-staffed and most of the shops and restaurants were closed," she says. "Therefore there weren't a lot of ingredients available.
"There was one night where I ordered food and it came four hours later."
During her isolation period, she also estimates she spent AU$500 on food and groceries, however she expects her travel insurance to cover AU$350 of those costs.
While proof of travel insurance that contains Covid cover is a requisite for travelling to Fiji, Mehta estimates her extended hotel stay would have cost her around AU$4000.
'I think a lot of people are in the same boat'
While quarantine-free travel to Fiji was available for Australian travellers from November 30, by December 7 the country had reported its first case of Omicron. Since then daily infections have steadily increased.
The average number of daily cases has risen by over 480 over the last three weeks, with the island collective now recording an average of 497 new daily infections.
On Monday, the South Pacific nation also enacted tighter rules in an effort to reduce transmission, including sizeable fines for people who fail to wear masks (AU$162) and businesses who don't conduct temperature checks (AU$650).
Masks are also mandatory in all public venues, on public transport, and in crowded public settings like markets, shopping malls and bus stands.
After speaking to her insurer, Ms Mehta believes a lot of tourists are in a similar situation to her.
"The nurse from the insurance call said that she's only had three calls today that weren't about people stuck in Fiji due to Covid," she says.
"I think a lot of people are in the same boat and Fiji case numbers are increasing."
Be prepared and travel responsibly
Prior to travelling to Fiji, Ms Mehta's preparation involved thoroughly researching the nation's Covid response and calling up her travel insurer to make sure she understood her policy's Product Disclosure Statement (PDS).
She also compiled a Google document that included information on the areas with the lowest vaccination rates and PCR testing sites closest to her accommodation.
She also advocated people to be responsible and not leave their accommodation if they're symptomatic and especially so if they plan on visiting villages or areas with higher populations of Indigenous or lower-socio-economic communities, where the impact of infection might be direr.
"Calculate your risks, do your research and take as many precautions as you can," she says.
"If anything, this trip has taught me how to be so self sufficient and how to vouch for myself."
*News.com.au has agreed to use a pseudonym for Ms Mehta.