Coronavirus: HK needs to up its mass quarantine game, experts say, as complaints of chaos multiply

12-May-2021 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 5:02 AM Print This Post

Authorities must plan large quarantine operations better and should consider breaking up mass evacuations into batches, a former health minister and a medical expert have said following the chaos that erupted after thousands of Hong Kong residents were sent into isolation last week.

Problems and complaints including claims of food poisoning at quarantine camps could be avoided if officials adopted a more cohesive approach to the logistics involved, they said on Monday as authorities confirmed four new coronavirus cases, all imported.

Residents of entire housing blocks were simultaneously evacuated on Wednesday after the discovery of Covid-19 variants, leading to questions about authorities’ ability to handle such a large volume of people.

“Some of the details of the arrangements were not ideal, and I believe this had an impact on residents,” said former secretary for food and health Dr Ko Wing-man. “I hope the government can learn from this experience and do better.”

The experiences of handling the pandemic on mainland China and overseas had shown strict quarantine measures must be accompanied by other strong logistical measures to ensure necessary supplies reached the affected residents, Ko said.

When mainland authorities placed entire neighbourhoods and even cities under lockdown to combat the spread of the coronavirus, tens of thousands of volunteers and community workers were mobilised to deliver food and other supplies to the affected people.

Respiratory medicine expert Dr Leung Chi-chiu said the government needed to be fully prepared for large-scale quarantine efforts, including making arrangements to transport people to facilities and ensuring they had what they needed and enough staff members to manage the situation.

“The government in the past seldom put all the residents of a block into quarantine, and [last week] they did it for a few buildings,” Leung said.

The government could consider sending people to quarantine in batches over two or three days rather than all in one go, giving authorities more time to prepare, he suggested.

The four latest cases involved three arrivals from Indonesia and one from India. None carried the N501Y mutation. It marked the third day in a row without a local infection and took the city’s overall Covid-19 tally to 11,811 cases, with 210 related deaths. Five preliminary-positive infections were also identified.

A woman who lived in the evacuated Block R of Allway Gardens in Tsuen Wan, where a domestic helper was discovered carrying the coronavirus variant last week, meanwhile, was among those complaining of disarray in the quarantine operation.

“Officers from the Department of Health failed to clarify how many people there were in my family despite cross-checking information with me four times,” the woman, who was identified as Renee, angrily told a morning radio show.

She said the process last Wednesday took from 1pm until 10.30pm, when she and her family members were finally asked to depart for the quarantine facility at Penny’s Bay on Lantau Island.

But the facilities and food awaiting them were far from satisfactory, according to Renee.

“There were splinters in the bed boards that we needed to repair ourselves… The air conditioner was also too cold and I couldn’t sleep. Some residents also requested an extra blanket on the first day they entered the centre, but still hadn’t received one by the time they left,” she told Commercial Radio.

District councillor Chiu Yan-loy told a separate radio programme that more than 30 people suffered from diarrhoea after eating food supplied at the Penny’s Bay facility.

A woman surnamed Fan, who was among the Tsuen Wan residents sent for quarantine, said her parents and younger sister had diarrhoea three to four times after eating the same meal.

Chiu questioned whether the government was capable of handling such a large number of people simultaneously.

“The Penny’s Bay centre only reached half capacity in the past few days. Is the administration able to handle peak capacity at those quarantine centres?” Chiu asked.

The Department of Health on Sunday night said that more than 2,300 residents of buildings where variants were uncovered had been allowed to leave quarantine centres under revised rules announced on Friday.

Chiu said a few households at the Tsuen Wan estate were still in quarantine on Monday morning.

But the department clarified that the residents were close contacts of a confirmed case and would need to be quarantined in the government facility.

But one family from a residential block in Tung Chung was not released until Monday afternoon despite repeated complaints to the staff at Penny’s Bay and the Centre for Health Protection (CHP).

A 24-year-old graduate student, who asked to be identified by his surname, Li, told the Post that quarantine centre staff had informed him, his mother and elder sister they could not leave, as they had not been given the permission by the CHP yet. His father had managed to board a bus taking residents back to their homes on Saturday.

Li said the camp’s poor internet connection had made taking online classes unbearable, while he and his sister had both suffered from a bout of food poisoning from a meal served there.

“I had no strong feelings about the quarantine at first, but the bad Wi-fi and food safety, and the fact they changed the policy midway [allowing some residents to leave early] is kind of unfair to those of us who did have to quarantine,” he said. “This policy is unsustainable.”

The Department of Health said it had taken more time to verify the identities of those in quarantine before they could leave. As of 7pm on Monday, about 20 more people were cleared to return home after receiving negative coronavirus test results.

The quarantine facilities had also increased manpower to help deal with residents’ needs as quickly as possible.

Separately, the government on Sunday night said nearly 340,000 of the city’s 370,000 foreign domestic workers had met the Covid-19 testing deadline for the mandatory programme that began on May 1.

About 40,000 helpers have also received two doses of Covid-19 vaccine, which could exempt them from the compulsory screening.

As of Monday, about 1.78 million vaccine shots had been administered to the public. Roughly 1.08 million people, or 14.5 per cent of the city’s population, have received their first dose and 689,260 people, or 9.2 per cent of the population, have taken their second one.


Category: Hong Kong

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