From this month, hotel quarantine will be mandatory for most Hong Kong arrivals.
A sudden outbreak of community infections in Hong Kong has led the government to impose hotel-based quarantine on almost all arrivals into the city.
The city counted nine new coronavirus cases earlier this week, two of which were linked to a growing cluster centred around a staycation holiday at Silvermine Bay in Mui Wo, Lantau Island. So far, seven infections have been linked to the cluster.
Previously to the new ruling, only arrivals from high-risk countries were required to quarantine in a hotel, while those from low-risk countries could self-isolate at home for 14 days.
The only exception to hotel quarantine once the new quarantine rules come into force on November 13 will be for those arriving into Hong Kong from mainland China, Macau and Taiwan. From this date, all other arrivals will need to provide proof of a room reservation at a Hong Kong hotel for no fewer than 14 nights.
According to a government spokesperson, the move has been made to “reduce the transmission risk of the virus from imported cases to household members during home quarantine.”
Fourteen countries are currently on the high-risk list, with Turkey due to be added on November 13. Arrivals from these areas also need to provide proof of a negative Covid test taken no more than 72 hours before departure.
The news was met with dismay amongst Hong Kong’s expatriate population, many of whom are hoping to fly children studying at overseas boarding schools and universities back to the territory for Christmas.
“Could this situation get any more ridiculous?” said one Australian mother who wanted to remain anonymous. “I’m leaving my husband and child in Hong Kong to spend Christmas with my older child who's studying in Australia. Locked up in hotel quarantine twice, once in Australia and then again on my return to Hong Kong... That’s four weeks of my trip sitting in a hotel room to travel from one almost zero-risk area to another almost zero-risk area.”
Australia is currently registering no community infections following Melbourne’s exit from a lengthy lockdown this month.
“I suspect parents will start making decisions about moving back ‘home’ permanently or schooling children in Hong Kong if this keeps going,” said another parent.
Along with the emotional turmoil of locked-hotel room isolation, the cost is another hurdle. A two-week hotel quarantine in Hong Kong can cost anywhere upwards of HK$10,000, plus food, and a similar rate is being charged in Australia. Concerns have also been raised that the limited number of quarantine rooms available in Hong Kong will not be sufficient to meet demand.
British parents were also worried, particularly as there has been no sign that the Hong Kong government might allow unaccompanied minors returning to Hong Kong for the holidays to quarantine at home, as is the case in countries such as Australia.
In general, Hong Kong hotels only allow minors under 16 years to stay if they are accompanied by an adult. Official coronavirus guidelines therefore advise that a parent or guardian joins the child in quarantine.
“It is recommended to arrange only one family member or caketaker to enter and stay with the minor in the hotel room together until the end of the quarantine period,” reads the guidance.
“With the UK ban on international travel it’s becoming increasingly difficult to manage children returning for the Christmas holidays,” said a British expat mother-of-two. “I’m just praying there are no major flight changes or schedule reductions between now and Christmas."
Hong Kong’s chief executive Carrie Lam has also stressed that social distancing measures, including the four-person limit for public gatherings, would remain in place.
At a media briefing this week she told local media that while the pandemic situation was not worsening, “it’s not improving enough to give us the confidence to further relax measures,” she said.
With regards the travel bubble with Singapore that was proposed in October, the government said it aimed to launch the bubble later this month and is currently trialling rapid tests at Chek Lap Kok airport. Changi Airport offers a 30-minute turnaround on arrival testing while Hong Kong’s current lab-based tests can keep passengers waiting for up to 12 hours.