Hong Kong residents have stood up against an order mandating quarantine for apartment dwellers if someone tests positive for COVID-19 in the building. Under the mandate, all residents of a building are sent to a quarantine camp to stay up to 21 days. But the city’s government caved into a petition and permitted apartment dwellers to isolate themselves in their own units.
The South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported that dozens of residents at two Hong Kong apartments were allowed to stay at home overnight. It followed a petition by more than 4,900 people to Hong Kong authorities. Around 2,800 residents of the Royalton I in Pok Fu Lam and 2,100 residents of an apartment block at Caribbean Coast in Tung Chung launched the petition. They urged the government to permit occupants of two housing blocks to isolate themselves in their own apartment units.
The petitioners from Caribbean Coast said they were losing income while isolated and that the health of elderly residents had been affected. They added that students living in the complex were unable to take university admission tests. Meanwhile, two-thirds of the Royalton’s 120 residents had been sent to camps as of the afternoon of May 6.
Royalton resident Jonathan Cummings told SCMP that he and some neighbors had sent a letter to Hong Kong Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan Siu-chee. The letter asked the city’s health chief to allow Cummings and other residents to quarantine in their homes. “We are not disputing the quarantine request, we just want to be allowed to do so from where we feel the safest – in our homes,” Cummings said.
The residents of Royalton expressed willingness to adhere to guidelines under the special quarantine arrangement. They said they were willing to be sealed within their homes for a three-week period and wear tracking devices. Furthermore, they also committed to sharing CCTV footage from the building with health authorities.
Occupants from the two apartments were forced to evacuate after a domestic helper tested positive for the Wuhan coronavirus. Analysis found that helper contracted a strain with the N501Y and E484K mutations. The mutations are present in the South African B1351 and Brazilian P3 coronavirus variants.
A clinical professor dubbed the quarantine orders straight out of mainland China as a “nuisance”
The city’s government took increasingly draconian measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in Hong Kong after pressure from Beijing. Returning residents are required to quarantine themselves for two to three weeks at government-approved hotels. Those coming from mainland China are exempted from this rule, however. Aside from this, Hong Kong ordered that all inhabitants of a housing block must quarantine if one case is found in the building.
University of Hong Kong associate professor Dr. Christian Fang Xinshuo told SCMP that his family of four and their helper received their quarantine order on May 5. They were sent to the Penny’s Bay quarantine facility on Lantau Island the next day. Fang added that he saw two others being loaded on a bus and eight of his neighbors on another one.
The associate professor slammed the quarantine measures as a “nuisance” to apartment residents. “It’s a nuisance to residents and a waste of resources to transfer so many people to quarantine centers. Why not seal off the building so everyone can stay inside their homes? This could help prevent cross-infection during transfer,” he remarked.
The Hong Kong Department of Health defended its decision to quarantine all apartment residents if a COVID-19 case is found. It argued in a written response that it had taken the stronger precaution of isolating asymptomatic residents “to prevent the variant from spreading further.”
Infectious disease specialist Dr. Joseph Tsang Kay-yan remarked that the government should not be blamed for taking the “highest precautionary measure.” He explained that it was unclear whether there were still any traces of the virus in public spaces where domestic helpers congregated. Tsang also warned that allowing residents to isolate at home would also entail a large operation. Authorities would have to ensure that no one left the building and all residents underwent COVID-19 testing.
Officials at the special administrative region also said they were reviewing a controversial order directed at the city’s domestic helpers. The order required helpers to get COVID-19 tests and undergo immunization against the disease if they wanted to renew their work contracts. Most migrant worker groups did not take too kindly to the order and called it “discriminatory and unjust.”
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said during a May 4 Executive Council meeting: “We need to first establish a justification [for the order.] [We] also need to communicate with the consular general offices of these countries where the domestic helpers come from, to weigh the pros and cons. The government, as a decision-maker, will also need to weigh this with the primary objective of safeguarding public health.”
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