“I think the worst part is not knowing when I’ll be able to get out,” he said. “You’re almost feeling you are back at school, with controlled wake-up and bedtime, (and) not being able to control what you can eat.”
On December 19, Chan flew to Hong Kong from London to start a new job.
Chan said he was fully vaccinated with a booster shot and had tested negative for Covid-19 several times before his flight. He was mentally prepared for quarantine, but not for what happened next, he said.
On arrival in Hong Kong, Chan took a mandatory Covid-19 test and waited hours at the airport. His result was determined “preliminary positive,” meaning he was required to take another test. He was then moved to a cordoned-off area with a makeshift bed.
“It was definitely a bit of a shell shock,” Chan said. “Having done so many tests in the week leading up to my flight, and all of them came back negative … I didn’t ever think that I’ll actually test positive on arrival.”
Some 13 hours after his plane landed, Chan was taken by ambulance to a nearby hospital for further testing. He was later confirmed to have the Omicron variant, though he remained asymptomatic.
“(I had) that feeling of dread, where you sort of go, ‘Oh, God, what’s going to happen now?'” he said. “I definitely felt quite trapped … you can’t just say, ‘I’m going to get back on a flight and go somewhere else.’ You really are just trapped there, so that was quite a scary feeling.”
It’s not just travelers who face indefinite hospitalization when they test positive for Covid-19 in Hong Kong.
In recent days, Hong Kong has identified a number of Omicron cases in a cluster linked to aircrew — breaking a nearly three-month streak of no locally transmitted Covid infections. Those confirmed infected have also been sent to the hospital.
Meanwhile, hundreds of people including more than 20 restaurant staff deemed close contacts of the positive cases have been sent to the government camp for 21 days of isolation and extensive testing. Any positive results would mean a transfer to hospital.
Anyone who attended the same premises as the positive cases at roughly the same time in recent days has also been ordered to take a test, while several residential buildings linked to the cluster have been temporarily locked down for mass testing.
As fears of local Omicron transmission grow, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said Tuesday that resumption of normal travel between the city and mainland China will “have to wait for another while.”
Just before the cluster emerged, Lam reaffirmed Hong Kong’s zero-Covid stance.
“Hong Kong has been taking very stringent measures to guard against importation of cases with a view to maintaining zero local infection,” she said in a December 28 statement. “In the face of the fierce onslaught of Omicron, we need to be even more vigilant.”
Stuck in the hospital
According to Hong Kong authorities, the minimum isolation period for anyone who tests positive for Covid-19 — even if they are asymptomatic — is nearly a month. They must stay in the hospital for at least 10 days and are not allowed to leave until they test negative twice in succession — however long it takes.
But even testing negative twice…