HONG KONG – A pandemic hit Hong Kong, and the Worley family followed the rules at stake. They wore masks. They distanced themselves socially. They traveled overseas with their newborn baby to visit his grandparents.
Then the coronavirus came to the playgroup of their 15-month-old son. Now they sit three for ten days in a Spartan government quarantine center.
“We did everything we were asked to do,” said Kylie Davies-Worley, the Australian mother. ‘We complied with every regulation, we stayed home when we needed it, and yet we feel treated like second-class citizens. It is not human. ”
Hong Kong’s deliberate approach to combating the virus involves temporarily restricting the freedoms of a few to the benefit of the many. The Chinese territory avoided full lockout, mainly by moving aggressively to eradicate the virus, wherever it may be found, whether among taxi drivers and restaurant workers, in densely populated low-income neighborhoods or in dance halls popular with older women.
The government’s latest moves are aimed at an outbreak among expatriates, which accounts for about a tenth of the Asian financial capital of 7.5 million. They often hold key positions in the local offices of global banks and powerful law firms, and have the means to put Hong Kong’s policies on an international stage.
The outbreak, which has increased to 132 cases, began last week in a gym that caters to white-collar workers. Hundreds of close contacts were rounded up for quarantine, including a large number of children whose schools turned up. Some expatriate parents, for fear of the effect of quarantine on their children, have appealed to their governments for help.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has called for more transparency. The American, British and Swiss consulates asked moderately. Thousands signed petitions.
Much of the outburst of anger focused on the plight of children. Some parents were concerned that their families would be separated by quarantine policies, while others expressed concern that government facilities were not properly equipped for small children or mothers who were breastfeeding. For older children, the greater damage may be psychological, the principal of one international school affected by the outbreak told CNN.
According to officials, as of Wednesday, there are nearly 2,000 people in quarantine centers in government.
Hong Kong CEO Carrie Lam said on Tuesday that the government does not have a policy of forcibly separating children from their parents and that quarantine arrangements are made based on each family’s circumstances.
“We are a compassionate government,” she said. Lamb said at a news conference.
In a separate statement On the same day, the government set out the facilities for children in quarantine centers, saying that “every decision has been made in the interests of the children and their families.”
Quarantine is nothing new in Hong Kong, which has one of the strictest policies in the world. People who test positive for the virus are isolated in hospitals for monitoring and treatment, regardless of whether they have symptoms, while their close contact is quarantined for up to 14 days, even if they test negative. More than 42,000 people went through the government’s quarantine facilities during the pandemic.
The approach has helped Hong Kong keep virus cases to a minimum, with an infection rate of about 1 in 660 people, compared to at least 1 in 12 in the United States, according to a New York Times database.
“One of SARS’s lessons is that targeted approaches such as contact tracing and quarantine are a useful way to limit the transmission of an infection, and this has been applied with great success with the Covid pandemic in Hong Kong,” said Ben Cowling. an epidemiologist, said. and biostatistician at the University of Hong Kong School of Public Health, citing the 2003 epidemic that killed 299 people in Chinese territory. (Hong Kong has recorded 203 deaths due to Covid-19.)
Contact detection and quarantine measures have reduced the transmission of the coronavirus by a quarter since the onset of the pandemic, according to an unpublished study by dr. Cowling and his colleagues, and has enabled life in Hong Kong to continue with a sense of normalcy unimaginable. in places like the United States. Even with the latest outbreak, the government this week extended social restrictions that allow restaurants to remain open until 10 p.m.
But because the government has tried to track the shifts in the disease’s progress, it has sometimes been caught off guard, as with the issue of quarantine conditions for children. Health workers are judged to make quarantine decisions on a case-by-case basis, which allows for flexibility but also makes the public unsure about how the policy is being implemented.
It does not help that public confidence in the Hong Kong government has been deeply damaged after a protest movement in 2019 and the subsequent introduction of a draconian national security law by the central Chinese authorities. Residents questioned whether some pandemic restrictions were at least partially intended to prevent the protests from resuming.
This mistrust is reflected in less-than-expected participation in a nationwide vaccination campaign, with residents particularly skeptical about the Chinese-made Sinovac vaccine. On Monday, the government said it was expanding the eligibility for anyone 30 and older to speed up the vaccination.
Confusion, mistrust and misinformation on social media have contributed to accusations of unequal treatment in quarantine decisions. Parents asked why some children are allowed to quarantine at home or in hotels instead of in government facilities; health officials say it depends on their degree of exposure to the virus.
The case of a couple working at the U.S. consulate, who tested positive for the virus but was allowed to bring their two children to the hospital with them, has caused further consternation and complaints of extraordinary treatment. Mrs. Lam said the decision was made based on the couple’s family circumstances and not their status as consular employees.
“Everyone is treated equally before the law and in terms of our epidemic controls, regardless of their race, their status, their identity, whether they are more inventive or less inventive,” she said Tuesday. “This is a fundamental principle in Hong Kong and we will abide by it.”
Although officials provided quarantine for some children, members of the playgroup used by the Worley family did not turn around like that. One of them, Jennifer Choi, spends seven nights in a government center with her 13-month-old daughter.
Like the Worleys, Ms. Choi, who hails from South Korea, said she was careful to follow social distance rules. Her daughter often wears a face shield, although Hong Kong does not require masks for children under the age of 2.
It was therefore frustrating for her and other parents when officials cited the presence of maskless babies in the group as one reason why all eight of them and their caregivers were sent to government quarantine.
“What kind of logic is that?” Me. Choi said.
Tiffany May contribution made.