The final time I used to be in the USA was in January; the primary recognized native case of Covid-19 had simply been detected in Seattle and the virus was starting to unfold throughout the West Coast. The World Well being Group hadn’t but declared the coronavirus a pandemic.
By October 2020, the States handed a bleak milestone of recording greater than 210,000 coronavirus-related deaths — probably the most in any nation on this planet.
Not like in Hong Kong, the place virtually any well being care supplier can check and return outcomes to sufferers in just a few hours, discovering a hospital or clinic with a equally speedy turnaround in New York — not to mention within the US as an entire — was trickier. Public hospitals in Hong Kong can check sufferers for $22.50; testing in non-public hospitals is costlier ($300 however embrace detailed lab reviews). With out medical insurance, a polymerase chain response (PCR) check — the “gold customary of Covid-19 testing” and hottest amongst vacationers — might price as much as $300 within the States.
After days of analysis — digging round on Google, calling clinics and counting on family and friends for info, I discovered a hospital that was acquainted with the Hong Kong authorities’s necessities. I scheduled a digital session with a physician who gave me the inexperienced gentle to ebook a PCR check. This physician would, in a while, signal and stamp the paperwork for my flight dwelling.
Karina Tsui, masks on, prepares to fly from the USA to Hong Kong.
72 hours earlier than flying
After I arrived for my check appointment at a Manhattan hospital, I used to be instructed to observe indicators resulting in a makeshift “testing heart”. A nurse was there, anticipating my arrival, and defined how the process would pan out. She reassured me that I’d get my ends in 24 to 48 hours. Then, with out a lot warning, she caught an extended cotton swab up my proper nostril, wriggled it round for seven seconds and saved the pattern in a plastic container.
I used to be out and in of the hospital in lower than 5 minutes. As a result of I purchased journey insurance coverage from Atlas America forward of time, I did not must pay a cent. Twelve hours later, I acquired a report indicating that I had examined detrimental for SARS-COV-2.
Day of the flight
Terminal 8 at John F. Kennedy Airport was at all times a buzzing transit hub the place enterprise folks, college students and vacationers congregated in preparation for long-haul journeys internationally. On the day of my flight dwelling on August 31, the terminal was abandoned.
The Covid testing space at Hong Kong Worldwide Airport.
Because the pandemic began, Cathay Pacific has considerably diminished their flight rely from the US to Hong Kong. I used to be scheduled to fly on the one direct flight to Hong Kong that day. Not like most individuals I knew, who flew into Hong Kong and had been transferred to the town’s Asia World-Expo Heart for necessary testing, passengers on my flight would make our solution to Hong Kong Worldwide Airport’s Terminal 2 — a terminal that, earlier than the pandemic, solely operated Asia-bound flights.
Members of Hong Kong’s Division of Well being guided us by way of varied stations the place we’d fill out varieties, obtain a wristband with a monitoring system in it and conduct a self-test.
Since our flight arrived within the afternoon, we might look ahead to our check ends in a government-subsidized resort. These arriving within the morning must look ahead to outcomes on the airport — generally taking as much as eight hours.
Boarding and flight expertise
There have been eight airport workers standing by the safety checkpoint — though there have been solely two vacationers passing by way of. Earlier than Covid-19 prompted disruption to journey, safety screenings at JFK would usually take 20 to half-hour — this time, the entire course of lasted lower than three.
An eerie silence crammed the halls resulting in the boarding gates. I handed by duty-free outlets clad with shutters. Just one or two espresso outlets and bookstores had been open. The sound of my footsteps echoed in opposition to the metal partitions.
A member of the crew took our temperatures as we boarded the plane. I counted 13 passengers complete, that means that the Airbus 350-1000 was simply at 3% capability. With so few folks on board, these of us in Economic system class every had a row to ourselves. Simply earlier than takeoff, the captain introduced that everybody must fill out a digital well being declaration type.
On board, all flight attendants wore masks and protecting glasses and saved a protected distance from passengers. Loos had been cleaned each hour, and bottles of water distributed simply as ceaselessly. All passengers got the identical two scorching meals, plus there have been the same old snacks — together with my favourite, Cup Noodles — upon request.
Tsui sported a face protect for further safety.
Touchdown in Hong Kong
Once we touched down in Hong Kong, I felt the identical sense of aid and pleasure as I at all times do after I come dwelling, regardless of realizing that the following 14 days would result in a lot uncertainty.
On the airport, indicators guided vacationers from high-risk international locations to a testing website at Terminal 2. Alongside the way in which, airport safety workers checked well being declaration varieties, making certain that every one particulars like native ID card numbers, telephone numbers and resort quarantine addresses had been correctly crammed out. Every passenger was given a customized QR code to move by way of every station effectively.
A member of the Division of Well being known as my telephone quantity to verify if it was working — she instructed me it was so authorities might contact me throughout quarantine. One other workers member tagged me with a safe wristband with a tracker, the tracker would then connect with an app known as “Keep At Dwelling,” which I used to be requested to obtain on my telephone.
Every particular person on my flight was given a self-test package and instructed to go to a personal sales space to spit right into a plastic container. We got leaflets outlining step-by-step instructions, from tips on how to correctly extract “deep throat saliva” (by making a “kuuragh” sound) to tips on how to completely sanitize and safe pattern containers. In any case passengers accomplished their assessments, we picked up our checked baggage and had been taken to a government-subsidized resort for one night time.
The resort was clear, and we got each dinner and breakfast at no cost. At 10 a.m. the following morning, I acquired a name from the Division of Well being saying that I had examined detrimental for coronavirus and will make my very own solution to the resort I booked for the remaining time of quarantine.
To my shock, there have been taxis lined up exterior the quarantine resort. Drivers did not appear to thoughts that we might probably carry the virus. I took a taxi throughout the harbor to my resort in Causeway Bay. Rolling down the automobile home windows, I savored the ultimate few moments “exterior” — feeling the Hong Kong humidity and sunshine on my pores and skin.
The view from Tsui’s resort room in Hong Kong.
On the resort
My room on the Park Lane Resort was 340 sq. toes and included all the same old facilities of a room at a four-star resort — a flat-screen TV, a big desk, studying chair, a mini fridge (which was empty), water bottles, a shower and bathe.
There was simply sufficient area on both aspect of my mattress to stretch out and train. I had a view of Victoria Park, the inexperienced lungs of the busy industrial district under me. Like most of the high-rise buildings round Hong Kong, my home windows had been locked for security causes.
Sure guidelines had been nonnegotiable. During my quarantine, nobody was allowed in or out of my room. Household and associates might drop off gadgets, however they must go away them at reception for resort workers to deliver up. Every part from meals and water to recent sheets and towels had been left exterior my door — I used to be not allowed to have any interplay with anybody.
As a part of the resort package deal, I used to be despatched breakfast and occasional each morning however in any other case, my meals had been ordered through Deliveroo or dropped off at reception by household and associates.
For the primary few days, as I used to be adjusting to jet lag, I spent early mornings watching the dawn and seeing folks slowly trickle into the park. There was a dance troupe rehearsing the identical routine each morning, a bunch of older males practising tai chi on the rear finish of the park. Most colleges had been nonetheless closed, so youngsters spent hours taking part in on the garden within the afternoons.
This testing package was despatched to Tsui’s room.
No place like dwelling
Hong Kong was starting to bounce again after the federal government imposed strict lockdown measures in response to a 3rd wave of infections. Being confined and seeing the town from one perspective allowed me to soak up moments that may in any other case go unnoticed. I felt fortunate to be within the place I used to be in.
All through the 2 weeks, I made a acutely aware effort to stay to a routine — to maneuver my physique, stimulate my thoughts and keep in contact with the skin world by way of conversations with family and friends. I used to be despatched coloring books and puzzles to maintain me occupied throughout my down time. I listened to podcasts and slowly made my manner by way of just a few books.
However to say that your entire quarantine expertise was as romantic because the quiet moments would reduce simply how a lot the pandemic is a psychological struggle as it’s bodily. There have been instances after I felt like I misplaced management — not with the ability to put together a meal for myself, as an example, or handle the parts of my meals with out being wasteful.
As per strict authorities laws, all my meals was despatched to me in single-use plastic and because the days glided by, I felt more and more paranoid about how a lot waste I used to be producing. Each afternoon, I’d obtain a “wellness name” from the resort supervisor, and whereas the check-in was a lot appreciated, even he could not assist me with my considerations for the setting.
Journaling was a cathartic and aware solution to blow off steam, as was speaking to associates for hours and maintaining with writing and different artistic initiatives. Two days earlier than my launch, I used to be despatched one other self-test package and examined detrimental. I acquired a textual content from the Division of Well being on my final day and, at 11:59 p.m., I used to be allowed out of my room. I noticed a well-recognized face on the check-out counter — a girl who had been on my flight from New York what appeared like centuries in the past.
Regardless of the whirlwind course of, I am grateful that the Hong Kong authorities is taking further precautions to maintain residents protected. Whilst we edge in the direction of the precipice of a possible “fourth wave” of infections in Hong Kong, I really feel that I am in one of many most secure locations on this planet.
Karina Tsui is an unbiased journalist protecting politics and humanities in Hong Kong. She was beforehand a reporter at Monocle.