COVID-19: Speaking from quarantine, a Hong Konger returning home describes confusion but few answers

COVID-19: Speaking from quarantine, a Hong Konger returning home describes confusion but few answers
COVID-19: Speaking from quarantine, a Hong Konger returning home describes confusion but few answers
  • A Hong Konger trapped at the airport relays his experience.
  • There appear to be no clear rules on the extent of quarantine measures for suspected cases.

HONG KONG – Borders are closing worldwide in a bid to contain the COVID-19 novel coronavirus pandemic, but Hong Kong is still scrambling with how to deal with the shut down.

A growing number of people say they have been held at Hong Kong International Airport without access to food or medical treatment for long periods of time after declaring symptoms on a health form upon entering the Special Administrative Region (SAR), which has its own border controls.

Alvin Mo Ka Hin, a 24-year-old Hong Konger, was one of those people stuck at the airport.

The first year communications student at Thomas More University of Applied Sciences was returning to the country from Belgium (transiting in Bangkok) when he was held at the airport.

“I had a sore throat and some difficulty breathing before my flight in Belgium. But I didn’t think it was anything to be alarmed about, as I often catch minor colds,” said Mo.

Hong Kong now requires anyone coming from abroad to self-isolate for 14 days. Authorities are using tracking bracelets to ensure compliance with this isolation period.

This self-isolation is for people without symptoms. For people who come into Hong Kong and have symptoms, the situation can be more complicated.

Upon arrival in Hong Kong on the evening of March 18, Mo was given a health form to fill and declared that he had a sore throat and difficulty breathing. He handed the form to an officer at the immigration checkpoint.  

“They then escorted me to a room downstairs with about 30 people that had declared they had symptoms. There was nothing separating us and I couldn’t get my luggage,” said Mo.  

A nurse then took his temperature.

“She took my temperature, which was 37.1 degrees (within the normal range) and filled in a form. But the form was in English and I saw that she filled it in a ‘right ear’ column when it was the left ear she took my temperature,” said Mo.

He says he has not given any tests for the virus or treatment and was not separated from the others. He says there were three Americans with him but they were moved after contacting the US consulate.

“And I feel like my symptoms have gotten worse in the time that I have been stuck here,” he said, speaking from that airport quarantine where he had been for 24 hours.

Mo says he was only given a sandwich from convenience store 7-11 in that 24-hour period and was still unsure what would happen.

“We have not been given any information at all on what will happen next despite asking them repeatedly,” he said. “I also missed my appointment with my psychiatrist today, as I need to get some medication. I worry for my mental health.”

At the time of publication at 2 am local time on March 20, Mo was being held at a makeshift quarantine area near the gates where people wait for their flights.

Alvin Mo, a 24-year-old student from Hong Kong, was quarantined at Hong Kong International Airport.

“I am with another girl who is flying back to her hometown of Shenzhen via Beijing. We were told to wait in this area outside the toilets,” he said. “Even though there is no staff here, we dare not move away to get food for fear of jail time or coming into contact with others.” 

There appears to be no time limit on the quarantine or isolation of suspected cases stated in the Cap. 599A Prevention and Control of Disease Regulation.

A call to Hong Kong International Airport shed no light on the situation.

“We are not aware of the procedures and duration regarding quarantine arrangements of suspected cases as it is handled by the Port Health Division, under Hong Kong’s Department of Health,” a media spokesperson told Anticentric.

Calls to the Port Health Division have gone unanswered

All this is of little comfort to people like Mo, who has not been tested and is stuck in a healthcare limbo. He worries, however, that the muddled treatment could lead to further infections from the grouping of suspected cases. Worse, it might discourage people with mild symptoms from declaring them.

“It feels like they don’t care about us,” said Mo.

Mo’s family is aware of his situation and has told him to await further notice from authorities.

Hong Kong has reported 208 cases of COVID-19 and four deaths as of March 19. The outbreak appeared to be mostly contained after months of lockdowns, closures and quarantines. However, Hong Kong reported a spike of 15 cases on March 19, many of which were linked to the entertainment hub known as Lan Kwai Fong.

UPDATE: As of March 21, Mo was released from quarantine and has since tested negative for the coronavirus. A testing centre at Asia Expo is being set up.