A 30,000-member Fb group helps Hong Kongers navigate one of many world’s longest quarantines

A 30,000-member Fb group helps Hong Kongers navigate one of many world’s longest quarantines

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

Whereas we had been sleeping, the Hong Kong authorities had introduced that each one residents of the town 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 had been imagined to return to Hong Kong from america in fewer than 48 hours. We had booked a lodge for 2 weeks to adjust to the federal government’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 stop us from getting again.

What if our lodge could not lengthen our reservation earlier than our flight? Had been exceptions being made for individuals who had 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 info, however not recommendation and steerage from individuals who had already began coping with this new actuality.

So we turned to the HK Quarantine assist group on Fb, the place individuals had been already posting about their plans to take care of the brand 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 assist group has change into a useful useful resource for Hong Kongers who journey abroad through the pandemic and should navigate the town’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 a large, crowdsourced platform with sources on nearly each side of the arduous journey, corresponding to recommendation on the place to get the fitting nucleic acid exams overseas and detailed evaluations on quarantine motels. These summaries typically have important info for such an extended keep — if home windows open, the place you possibly can lease train gear or whether or not a lodge refuses outdoors deliveries.

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

A few of them get artistic, like Leo Cheung, who created his very personal Indignant Birds-like sport with gloves and paper luggage.

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

And Jessica Chong used the paper luggage her meals had 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 luggage meals her meals had been delivered in.

Jessica Chong

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

Behind the scenes, they curate and arrange posts on the group, making certain it isn’t marred by hostility, a repute different Hong Kong Fb teams have developed. The moderators arrange a “buddy program” for pairing up lonely souls by way of e mail and schedule meals deliveries for many who cannot get groceries. They’ve additionally supported individuals in distinctive however unimaginably troublesome conditions, corresponding to these grieving mates and family members remotely.

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

“By no means in one million years did we predict it was going to be like that,” mentioned Farah Siddiqi, one of many group’s co-founders.

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

Native motels just like the Ovolo Southside (pictured) have pivoted from catering to vacationers to working with quarantining locals.

Courtesy Ovolo Resorts

A serving to hand

Siddiqi created the group with one other volunteer, Kunj Gandhi, nearly a 12 months in the past. It was March 2020, because the pandemic was going international — forcing authorities in Hong Kong to rapidly write up new guidelines for individuals returning to one of many world’s most essential monetary facilities.

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

In March, returnees needed to spend 14 days in house isolation — a tricky job in Hong Kong, the place house is a luxurious most cannot afford. On the time, the town didn’t provide the identical broad choice of same-day providers as different main metropolises. Some of the well-liked grocery shops, ParknShop, might take days to ship. At first of the pandemic, its web site was so overwhelmed that grocery buyers must wait in a digital line.

So Siddiqi arrange a buddy system by way of e mail to attach these doing house quarantine who wanted assist with volunteers, and Gandhi established the Fb group. Somebody on Fb related the 2 after noticing how related their two initiatives had been. They joined forces and out put a name out for volunteers to assist ship groceries and reasonable the Fb group, they usually had about 800 within the first week, Siddiqi mentioned.

Tess Lyons was a kind of 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 had been all the time providing to lend a hand. That ethos motivated her to volunteer as one of many group’s moderators and to buy individuals in quarantine.

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

Siddiqi envisioned the group would fizzle out final summer season when the nice and cozy climate got here, which some predicted would finish the pandemic. Lyons thought that individuals would be a part of the group earlier than quarantine after which go away as soon as they had been completed. As a substitute, individuals stayed — typically to pay it ahead.

“What I discover extraordinary is that even after individuals have left quarantine, or have completed touring, they nonetheless aren’t exiting the group, whether or not it is as a result of they’ve the worry that they will should journey once more, or as a result of they acknowledged how priceless it was for themselves after they had been touring,” Lyons mentioned. “They wish to impart knowledge and tricks to make it simpler for incoming vacationers.”

“The worst of occasions carry out the perfect in individuals,” she added.

The thread of the 12 months

Hong Kong’s guidelines turned tighter because the pandemic received worse.

On the finish of March, non-residents had been banned from getting into. Testing necessities for returnees had been tightened in April, and as circumstances ticked up over the summer season, the town mandated that individuals 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 foundations received more durable, extra individuals sought assist from the group.

One among them was Jameson Gong.

His mom, 83-year-old Anna, splits her time between Hong Kong and america. She was because of return to Hong Kong final summer season to see her son and his household, however when the federal government introduced in late July that anybody arriving from america 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 Fb group if there could be anybody on her flight who might look out for her. They hadn’t advised her that she was required to get a Covid-19 check and await the outcomes after touchdown as a result of they thought it might panic her. She was already anxious due to the last-minute change.

“I simply threw it on the market,” he mentioned, “with no expectations.”


The lady sitting in entrance of Anna Gong noticed Jameson’s publish after they landed and mentioned she’d “make certain she will get off (the airplane) OK.” She up to date him with an image minutes later.

One other poster mentioned they helped her together with her luggage and let her reduce the road for the saliva check she needed to do on arrival. Another person from the group noticed Anna giving her saliva pattern and despatched an image to tell Jameson and the remainder 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 on the quarantine middle on this {photograph} from Sharon Hawkins Leung, one of many group members who up to date Jameson Gong on his mom’s standing. Leung joked her Cantonese is not superb nevertheless it gave the impression of 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

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 however the guards made her return to seat!”

Courtesy Sharon Hawkins Leung

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

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’

Quick 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 motels chosen by the federal government, one of many strictest quarantine measures on the planet.

Authorities in Hong Kong mentioned the brand new measures had been meant to catch very uncommon circumstances through which “the incubation interval of virus carried by only a few contaminated individuals could also be longer than the quarantine interval of 14 days.”

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

To get across the ban, some Hong Kong residents who had been in these international locations are attempting a technique nicknamed “covid laundering” — touring to a 3rd nation for 21 days to allow them to house, that means they will should spend a complete of 42 days overseas and in quarantine, with no monetary help from the federal government.

“We will all agree this is not optimum. Our precedence ought to be getting our individuals house,” Bernard Chan, a member of the Hong Kong Government Council, wrote within the Hong Kong-based the South China Morning Put up. “It ought to be attainable to make small enhancements in providers and circumstances that may make an enormous distinction within the quarantine expertise.”

There are examples for Hong Kong to study from.

New Zealand mandates that returnees will need to have entry to supervised outside train, not less than as soon as a day, supplied 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 Resorts, agrees extra must be completed to make quarantine extra snug carry individuals house. So he not too long ago introduced on LinkedIn that the Ovolo Southside — one of many firm’s motels — will provide 12 rooms for $1 Hong Kong (13 cents) a day to individuals in want who can not afford to return house. They’re partnering with two NGOs to search out individuals who want help.

“The airfares are costly sufficient already after which having to spend 21 days in a lodge room was fairly prohibitive for for lots of the returnees,” Jhunjhnuwala mentioned.

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

“I used to be born and introduced up right here. I like Hong Kong. That is the least I can do,” mentioned Jhunjhnuwala.

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

He mentioned hopes his friends within the lodge trade will comply with swimsuit, however not many have.

Like practically each tourism-related enterprise in Hong Kong, the Ovolo spent the final 18 months going through diminishing earnings and lowered bookings due to the six months of generally violent political unrest that rocked the town within the second half of 2019, after which the pandemic.

A number of the quarantine motels had been accused of worth gouging, profiting on the expense of company pressured to spend 3 weeks there to make up for months of misplaced income.

A couple of motels have allegedly elevated charges as demand rapidly rose. A number of look like attempting to economize on meals, with individuals on the Fb 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 motels and the sort of meals providing they’ve, and it is horrible,” Jhunjhnuwala mentioned. “It is a small value, and when you’re staying for 21 days, this impacts your psychological well-being.”

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

Company at lots of the quarantine motels have complained about being provided small, unappetizing meals that aren’t nutritious.


The present state of affairs is unlikely to alter quickly.

Whereas different main cities have already began rolling out Covid-19 vaccines, Hong Kong simply authorized its first vaccine for emergency use on the finish of January. The primary city-wide mass vaccination program is not anticipated to start till the tip of the month, after the Lunar New 12 months vacation.

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

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