Hong Kong (CNN) — I woke to the sound of my fiancée muttering “f*@!” underneath her breath on Christmas Eve.

While we have been sleeping, the Hong Kong authorities had introduced that each one residents of the metropolis getting back from overseas should now spend three weeks in lodge quarantine as an alternative of two, at their very own expense — efficient Christmas Day.

We have been imagined to return to Hong Kong from the United States in fewer than 48 hours. We had booked a lodge for 2 weeks to adjust to the authorities’s regulation — which required vacationers like us to buy a lodge room even when they owned or rented a house in Hong Kong — however this new hiccup might forestall us from getting again.

What if our lodge could not lengthen our reservation earlier than our flight? Were exceptions being made for individuals who have been about to hop on a airplane? And, might we even afford to spend 21 days in a lodge room — financially, bodily and mentally?

We wanted solutions. The Hong Kong authorities’s coronavirus web site had fundamental data, however not recommendation and steerage from individuals who had already began coping with this new actuality.

So we turned to the HK Quarantine help group on Facebook, the place individuals have been already posting about their plans to cope with the new guidelines.
A screenshot of the group's page.

A screenshot of the group’s web page.


Borne of necessity

Since its inception in March 2020, the help group has turn out to be a useful useful resource for Hong Kongers who journey abroad throughout the pandemic and should navigate the metropolis’s stringent Covid-19-related journey restrictions.

What began as a easy concept to attach individuals in quarantine with volunteers who might get them groceries has grown into an enormous, crowdsourced platform with sources on nearly each side of the arduous journey, equivalent to recommendation on the place to get the proper nucleic acid assessments overseas and detailed evaluations on quarantine accommodations. Those summaries usually have important data for such a protracted keep — if home windows open, the place you’ll be able to lease train gear or whether or not a lodge refuses outdoors deliveries.

The group additionally gives a way of neighborhood for these struggling in isolation. People commonly publish about their experiences and the way they’re coping. Some vent for catharsis. Others share jokes and humorous movies to move the time.

Some of them get artistic, like Leo Cheung, who created his very personal Angry Birds-like sport with gloves and paper baggage.

Angela Jo has been utilizing sticky notes to color her window.

And Jessica Chong used the paper baggage her meals have been delivered in to make masks.

Jessica Chong passed time in quarantine by creating masks with the paper bags meals her meals were delivered in.

Jessica Chong handed time in quarantine by creating masks with the paper baggage meals her meals have been delivered in.

Jessica Chong

Nearly all who publish get optimistic help — and that is largely because of the group’s meticulous group by a handful of devoted volunteer moderators.

Behind the scenes, they curate and set up posts on the group, making certain it is not marred by hostility, a repute different Hong Kong Facebook teams have developed. The moderators set up a “buddy program” for pairing up lonely souls through electronic mail and schedule meals deliveries for individuals who cannot get groceries. They’ve additionally supported individuals in distinctive however unimaginably troublesome conditions, equivalent to these grieving associates and family members remotely.

The group, which is personal, has exploded in recognition in current months. It began with few hundred members, however is now closing in on 30,000.

“Never in a million years did we think it was going to be like that,” stated Farah Siddiqi, one of the group’s co-founders.

Local hotels like the Ovolo Southside (pictured) have pivoted from catering to tourists to working with quarantining locals.

Local accommodations like the Ovolo Southside (pictured) have pivoted from catering to vacationers to working with quarantining locals.

Courtesy Ovolo Hotels

A helping hand

Siddiqi created the group with one other volunteer, Kunj Gandhi, nearly a yr in the past. It was March 2020, as the pandemic was going international — forcing authorities in Hong Kong to rapidly write up new guidelines for individuals returning to one of the world’s most essential monetary facilities.

Siddiqi stated the duo have been each annoyed that fellow Hong Kongers have been criticizing and ostracizing individuals getting back from overseas as a result of they could convey again the virus. She stated that she and Gandhi, who didn’t know one one other at the time, each wished to make it simpler for individuals to remain in quarantine and preserve their neighbors secure reasonably than merely criticize those that didn’t keep abroad.

In March, returnees needed to spend 14 days in house isolation — a tricky activity in Hong Kong, the place area is a luxurious most cannot afford. At the time, the metropolis didn’t supply the identical big range of same-day providers as different main metropolises. One of the hottest grocery shops, ParknShop, might take days to ship. At the starting of the pandemic, its web site was so overwhelmed that grocery customers must wait in a digital line.

So Siddiqi arrange a buddy system through electronic mail to attach these doing house quarantine who wanted assist with volunteers, and Gandhi established the Facebook group. Someone on Facebook related the two after noticing how related their two tasks have been. They joined forces and out put a name out for volunteers to assist ship groceries and reasonable the Facebook group, they usually had about 800 in the first week, Siddiqi stated.

Tess Lyons was one of these first to enroll. Lyons has lived in Hong Kong since 1997, however she comes from a small city in Canada the place she remembers individuals have been all the time providing to lend a hand. That ethos motivated her to volunteer as one of the group’s moderators and to buy individuals in quarantine.

Lyons stated she would take requests from individuals on-line, and when she went to the grocery retailer choose up her personal procuring, she’s add some additional objects for individuals in quarantine and ship them.

Siddiqi envisioned the group would fizzle out final summer time when the heat climate got here, which some predicted would finish the pandemic. Lyons thought that folks would be a part of the group earlier than quarantine after which go away as soon as they have been finished. Instead, individuals stayed — usually to pay it ahead.

“What I find extraordinary is that even after people have left quarantine, or have finished traveling, they still aren’t exiting the group, whether it’s because they have the fear that they’re going to have to travel again, or because they recognized how valuable it was for themselves when they were traveling,” Lyons stated. “They want to impart wisdom and tips to make it easier for incoming travelers.”

“The worst of times bring out the best in people,” she added.

The thread of the yr

Hong Kong’s guidelines turned tighter as the pandemic obtained worse.

At the finish of March, non-residents have been banned from getting into. Testing necessities for returnees have been tightened in April, and as instances ticked up over the summer time, the metropolis mandated that folks coming from sure “high-risk” international locations wanted to do a two-week quarantine both in a lodge or at a authorities facility.

As the guidelines obtained harder, extra individuals sought assist from the group.

One of them was Jameson Gong.

His mom, 83-year-old Anna, splits her time between Hong Kong and the United States. She was because of return to Hong Kong final summer time to see her son and his household, however when the authorities introduced in late July that anybody arriving from the United States must do a two-week quarantine at a lodge, the Gong household satisfied her to push her journey up so she might quarantine at house.

Gong does not personal a cellular phone so her son requested the Facebook group if there could be anybody on her flight who might look out for her. They hadn’t instructed her that she was required to get a Covid-19 check and anticipate the outcomes after touchdown as a result of they thought it will panic her. She was already anxious as a result of of the last-minute change.

“I just threw it out there,” he stated, “with no expectations.”


The lady sitting in entrance of Anna Gong noticed Jameson’s publish once they landed and stated she’d “make sure she gets off (the plane) OK.” She up to date him with an image minutes later.

Another poster stated they helped her along with her baggage and let her reduce the line for the saliva check she needed to do on arrival. Someone else from the group noticed Anna giving her saliva pattern and despatched an image to tell Jameson and the relaxation of the thread that she’d made it safely to the testing website.

Anna Gong is seen waiting at the quarantine center in this photograph from Sharon Hawkins Leung, one of the group members who updated Jameson Gong on his mother's status. Leung joked her Cantonese isn't very good but it sounded like Anna Gong was giving the guard a piece of her mind.

Anna Gong is seen ready at the quarantine heart on this {photograph} from Sharon Hawkins Leung, one of the group members who up to date Jameson Gong on his mom’s standing. Leung joked her Cantonese is not excellent nevertheless it appeared like Anna Gong was giving the guard a bit of her thoughts.

Courtesy Sharon Hawkins Leung

Anna Gong waits for her test results. Sharon Hawkins Leung, who took this photo, joked she had just tried to "make a run for it but the guards made her return to seat!"

Anna Gong waits for her check outcomes. Sharon Hawkins Leung, who took this photograph, joked she had simply tried to “make a run for it but the guards made her return to seat!”

Courtesy Sharon Hawkins Leung

This went on for nearly 12 hours. By the time mom and son have been reunited, there have been 649 feedback updating the group on Anna’s naps, walks and conversations with new associates.

Gong thanked a number of of those that helped out by internet hosting a reunion and giving them free tickets to the comedy membership he runs in Hong Kong.

Jameson Gong and his mother, Anna, shortly after she received her negative Covid-19 test results.

Jameson Gong and his mom, Anna, shortly after she acquired her damaging Covid-19 check outcomes.

Courtesy Jameson Gong

‘This is not optimum’

Fast ahead six months, and returning to Hong Kong is a way more troublesome ordeal than the one Anna Gong confronted. Residents should now e-book a room and board for 21 days at a pre-approved record of 36 accommodations chosen by the authorities, one of the strictest quarantine measures in the world.

Authorities in Hong Kong stated the new measures have been meant to catch very uncommon instances by which “the incubation period of virus carried by very few infected persons may be longer than the quarantine period of 14 days.”

To forestall the unfold of the new, extra infectious variants of Covid-19 first recognized in South Africa or the United Kingdom, Hong Kong residents who’ve spent greater than two hours in the previous three weeks in these locations are barred from coming house.

To get round the ban, some Hong Kong residents who have been in these international locations try a technique nicknamed “covid laundering” — touring to a 3rd nation for 21 days to allow them to get house, that means they’re going to must spend a complete of 42 days overseas and in quarantine, with no monetary help from the authorities.

“We can all agree this isn’t optimal. Our priority should be getting our people home,” Bernard Chan, a member of the Hong Kong Executive Council, wrote in the Hong Kong-based the South China Morning Post. “It should be possible to make small improvements in services and conditions that will make a huge difference in the quarantine experience.”

There are examples for Hong Kong to study from.

New Zealand mandates that returnees should have entry to supervised out of doors train, no less than as soon as a day, offered that they adhere to hygiene and social distancing guidelines. Beijing mandated a 21-day quarantine in January, however allowed individuals to spend the final week at house.

Girish Jhunjhnuwala, the CEO of Ovolo Hotels, agrees extra must be finished to make quarantine extra snug and convey individuals house. So he not too long ago introduced on LinkedIn that the Ovolo Southside — one of the firm’s accommodations — will supply 12 rooms for $1 Hong Kong (13 cents) a day to individuals in want who can’t afford to return house. They are partnering with two NGOs to seek out individuals who want help.

“The airfares are expensive enough already and then having to spend 21 days in a hotel room was quite prohibitive for many of the returnees,” Jhunjhnuwala stated.

Jhunjhnuwala known as the determination to supply the discounted rooms a “humane gesture,” one he hoped somebody would do for him if the shoe was on the different foot.

“I was born and brought up here. I love Hong Kong. This is the least I can do,” stated Jhunjhnuwala.

Jhunjhnuwala stated that after the Ovolo Southside, which is a four-star lodge, was added to the government-approved record, it hit 50% occupancy in every week — about double what it was earlier than. He anticipates it reaching 70 to 80% by the finish of February, and felt now was the time to present again.

He stated he hopes his friends in the lodge trade will observe swimsuit, however not many have.

Like practically each tourism-related enterprise in Hong Kong, the Ovolo spent the final 18 months going through diminishing income and diminished bookings because of the six months of generally violent political unrest that rocked the metropolis in the second half of 2019, after which the pandemic.

Some of the quarantine accommodations have been accused of worth gouging, profiting at the expense of visitors compelled to spend 3 weeks there to make up for months of misplaced income.

A few accommodations have allegedly elevated charges as demand rapidly rose. Several seem like making an attempt to economize on meals, with individuals on the Facebook group complaining they’re serving low cost meals that aren’t nutritious to chop down on prices.

“I hate to say this — I’ve seen some hotels and the kind of food offering they have, and it’s terrible,” Jhunjhnuwala stated. “This is a small cost, and if you’re staying for 21 days, this affects your mental well-being.”

Guests at many of the quarantine hotels have complained about being supplied small, unappetizing meals that are not nutritious.

Guests at many of the quarantine accommodations have complained about being equipped small, unappetizing meals that aren’t nutritious.


The present scenario is unlikely to vary quickly.

While different main cities have already began rolling out Covid-19 vaccines, Hong Kong simply accepted its first vaccine for emergency use at the finish of January. The first city-wide mass vaccination program is not anticipated to start till the finish of the month, after the Lunar New Year vacation.

Hong Kong’s conservative, risk-averse strategy to the pandemic signifies that quarantine restrictions are unlikely to vary till a major quantity of individuals are vaccinated — that means the HK Quarantine help group will stay an essential useful resource for the foreseeable future.

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