Hong Kong people eat under the ‘inhuman’ isolation regime

Katrina* was in quarantine for a few days in a hotel room in Hong Kong when she received a phone call saying her newborn baby had tested positive for coronavirus at the airport.

The pair are caught up in the labyrinthine bureaucracy of the territory’s “zero-Covid” policy, which takes them from hospital to hotel to government facility. They were told they would not be released until the end of December, more than seven weeks after returning to Hong Kong.

“It is difficult, especially with a child. You feel like a prisoner,” she said, speaking by phone from the quarantine camp.

Sofia* and her five-year-old daughter will have to spend 44 days in isolation by the time they are released. Complicated discharge standards mean they are confined to the hospital for more than a month after the child tested positive, then sent to a hotel for a further two weeks of isolation.

“We went crazy,” she said, also saying the word quarantine. “I don’t know how long I’ll be there.”

Hundreds of adults and children have been caught up in extreme pandemic control measures introduced in recent months, extending the time that people who test positive for the virus – or those who are close to them, have tested positive for the virus. close to them – must be isolated in a hospital or quarantined.

In August, Hong Kong introduced strict criteria for releasing Covid patients from isolation. Anyone who tests positive must be hospitalized for at least 10 days, have virtually no symptoms, and pass two PCR tests to be discharged.

Then, in October, the city imposed an additional two-week quarantine for recovered Covid patients. Some medical experts say the move is unethical and unnecessary.

People who have been near someone who has the virus, known as “close contacts,” face isolation in a government facility for up to 21 days.

It has combined travel restrictions, requires a 14 or 21-day hotel quarantine for anyone entering the territory, depending on their origin. The result of these measures has created one of the strictest and longest-lasting quarantine regimes in the world.

This month, 54 people in a quarantine hotel got an extra 14 days of stay – resulting in 35 days in quarantine for some – after a guest was found to carry the Delta variant.

“I feel angry and extremely sad. I was like, no, I can’t do this again,” said one of those affected, who did not wish to be named.

In another case, 120 kindergarten and elementary school students from a Discovery Bay school were taken to a government facility for three days after the father of a child – a pilot – contracted coronavirus overseas. .

Messages posted on the windows of quarantined guests at a hotel in Hong Kong

Visitors must stay between 14 and 21 days in a government-approved hotel, but anyone who tests positive during their stay must stay in the hospital for at least 10 days. © Peter Parks / AFP via Getty Images

Like China, Hong Kong’s goal since the start of the pandemic has been to eliminate the virus from within its borders. It has maintained this strategy even as other parts of Asia, including rival business centers such as Singapore and Tokyo, open.

The policy means Hong Kong has avoided a nationwide lockdown and has recorded just 213 deaths out of a population of 7.5 million. But now it is caught between risking its status as a global business hub based on free travel, or relaxation measures and the risk of an outbreak, which could be disastrous because low vaccination rates in the elderly.

Residents and healthcare professionals are divided over whether the measures should be eased.

Business groups have increased lobbying efforts, claims workers are leaving the territory due to restrictions. Several senior executives told the Financial Times that their families have not returned to the city after traveling abroad this summer because they fear being trapped in long-term quarantines.

“What worries me the most is that we are really distancing ourselves from the rest of the world,” said Arisina Ma, former president of the Hong Kong Association of Public Doctors. “Hong Kong is supposed to be a cosmopolitan place.”

However, others insist the policies are justified because they have prevented large numbers of deaths in other countries and have allowed daily life to virtually continue as normal.

Carrie Lam, the city’s chief executive, said she “wouldn’t sacrifice people’s safety just to rush to reopen the border”.

Joseph Tsang Kay-yan, chairman of the Hong Kong Medical Association’s advisory committee on infectious diseases, told the FT that a long quarantine period was “cautious”.

Hong Kong has not had a significant outbreak since March, which means that most of those caught up in the tightening controls have entered the city from abroad.

A tourist exits the arrivals hall of the Hong Kong Port passenger terminal building

Critics say Hong Kong’s tough travel restrictions threaten to make it a global business hub.

“I’ve lived here for 15 years, but I can’t live in a country that takes away a child’s freedom by dropping a hat,” said Kate*, who was ordered to quarantine for three days at a facility. The government said it called Penny’s Bay with her young son during the incident at Discovery Bay.

“It was a completely inhumane experience and not one that I want my children to go through again.”

Hong Kong’s policies are underpinned by China’s own zero-tolerance measures and its attempt to open a tourism “bubble” with the mainland.

A doctor working at a Covid quarantine ward in Hong Kong, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of fines, said: “Hong Kong has chosen to follow the Chinese government while ignoring the world’s trend, which This sounds odd for a city that branded itself as Asia’s world city. ” He added: “It is the individuals who suffer the unreasonable length of stay.”

For some of them, the measures are making them reconsider staying in Hong Kong.

“I don’t know where or when [we will go], but as soon as I’m out, I’ll start selling my stuff,” said one of the quarantined. “I don’t want to live in their ‘bubble’ but with the daily fear of being called back to Penny’s Bay. 100%, we’re out of here,” the person said.

*Name has been changed

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