How Hong Kong is dealing with the pandemic

People in the US complain a lot about about the restrictions imposed by the pandemic but they should see what Hong Kong has. This report is from a ProPublica reporter who is a Hong Kong citizen about what she had to go through in order to enter the country, starting with a very restrictive 21-day quarantine in a hotel at her own expense, even though she was vaccinated.

Incoming travelers were greeted by gowned, gloved and masked workers, who directed us through the terminal. As I followed the passengers ahead of me, I was unnerved by the shuttered stores….The terminal was now eerily still. My feet made too much noise as I trudged along the path marked by guardrails.

A PPE-covered worker sent me to a series of stations. First, I pulled my mask down for a nurse to swab my nose and throat for a PCR test. Then I presented my documents — preflight negative COVID-19 test, proof of hotel booking, Hong Kong resident ID and vaccination card — to an officer who scrutinized them before declaring me up to par.

For all the caution I had taken to reduce exposure in the interminable months since March 2020, that all felt like child’s play compared with the Compulsory Quarantine Order in my hand, which reminded me that I, Chen Caroline Yi Ling, was required, with immediate effect, to be quarantined in my hotel room at the Crowne Plaza as ordered by Yau Yuet-ming Lannon, an authorized officer of the Regulation, until Dec. 20, 2021, at 11:59 p.m. I flipped through the booklet of instructions for the three weeks of hotel quarantine. On Page 4, bold letters declared: “Warning: Leaving the room will be treated as breaching of the quarantine order. Offenders will be referred to the police without prior warning. Breaching the quarantine order is a criminal offence and offenders are subject to a maximum fine of HK $25,000 and imprisonment for six months.”

It felt like a different planet.

Once my airport test registered negative, I was released to a shuttle that dropped me off at my hotel. A PPE-shrouded employee sent me up the service elevator to my room on the 21st floor. It would be my home for the next three weeks.

Every three days, I had my only human contact. The doorbell would ring, I’d open it to an HVAC tube like an enormous vacuum hose held in front of my face while a PPE-clad worker swabbed my nose and throat. In the course of the hotel stay, I was tested seven times, including two samples collected the day before departure, which were sent to separate laboratories, just in case one provided a false negative. Even the trash was tightly regulated: I was instructed to put garbage in a sealed bag outside my room at designated times — otherwise, a sign warned me, I could be referred to the police and sent to a quarantine center. I have never in my life been so attentive about handling garbage.

Novak Djokovic is lucky he did not try to get into Hong Kong.

She says that once she had completed her 21-day isolation, things outside were also very different from the US.

When I finally departed my hotel, there were zero cases of COVID-19 in the city. Life is remarkably different than in the U.S.

I celebrated Christmas with my extended family: more than 20 of us together, from my grandmother and my cousin’s infant children, and we were spared fraught discussions of testing and exposure and risk reduction that so many U.S. families wrestled with this year. I walked through shopping malls and rode subway trains packed with people, knowing I didn’t have to worry about exposure. One of my best friends, currently pregnant, said she’s grateful to feel safe.

Everyone wears a mask, both indoors and outdoors. Stores on every other street corner tout rainbow displays of surgical masks, with a dazzling variety of patterns. Christmas-themed masks were popular over the holidays. I made a game of trying to spot people not wearing masks and only managed to catch one person wearing their mask under their nose. Otherwise, compliance was universal. I debated the extensive masking with my mom: If there’s no local transmission, why would anyone need to wear a mask, particularly outdoors? Masking is a shared community responsibility, my mother replied. She observed that Hong Kong is an incredibly dense city and added that, when the omicron variant inevitably reached Hong Kong, universal masking would help to slow its spread.

Clearly the social compact in Hong Kong is very different in Hong Kong than in the US.


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