Hong Kong defends practice of restraining some children under Covid-19 quarantine

Hong Kong's treatment of mothers during the pandemic has previously come under scrutiny.
Hong Kong's treatment of mothers during the pandemic has previously come under scrutiny.PHOTO: REUTERS

HONG KONG (AFP) - The Hong Kong health authorities have defended the practice of physically restraining some babies and children to beds in coronavirus isolation wards after criticism built over the treatment of families under the city's strict anti-virus measures.

Despite being one of the most densely packed cities in the world, Hong Kong has kept infections low thanks to some of the most stringent quarantine measures in the world, recording some 11,000 infections and 200 deaths since the pandemic began.

Anyone who tests positive for the coronavirus is immediately taken to isolation wards - regardless of whether they are symptomatic or not - and those deemed "close contacts" are sent to mandatory government quarantine camps.

Almost all arrivals into the city must also quarantine in dedicated hotels for three weeks.

The measures have helped curb infections and have been in place for much of the past year, largely without complaint.

But there has been growing pushback in recent weeks after an outbreak hit neighbourhoods favoured by wealthier - and more politically connected - white-collar locals and foreigners.

Social media groups have since been filled with comments by families taken to isolation wards or mandatory quarantine camps.

Their complaints include allegations that some parents have been separated from their children and ordered not to breastfeed babies, and that some infants have even been tied to beds to stop them moving around.

The allegations have led to a series of statements this week from the health authorities defending their policies, including over the use of restraints.

"Generally speaking, the hospital will only consider the application of physical restraint on paediatric patients for the safety and well-being of the patient," the Hospital Authority said in a statement late Wednesday (March 17).

"Appropriate and prior consent will be sought from the parents or guardians," it added.

The Hospital Authority added that parents who test negative would usually be allowed to accompany infected children in isolation wards if there is space.

In recent days, the consulates of Switzerland, Britain and the United States have all expressed concerns over how Hong Kong's tough anti-virus measures were impacting families, including concerns that parents had about being separated from children.

The US consulate temporarily closed earlier this week after two employees tested positive and were sent to an isolation ward.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam confirmed that special permission had been granted to allow their children to join them instead of being sent into quarantine.

Hong Kong's treatment of mothers during the pandemic has previously come under scrutiny.

Last year, a group of expecting parents fought an ultimately successful campaign to allow birth partners into the delivery room after they were banned during a spike in coronavirus cases.

World Health Organisation guidelines recommend that birth partners be present, even during the pandemic, and that infected mothers continue breastfeeding their babies.

While the authorities relented on birth partners, Hong Kong continues to tell mothers not to breastfeed in isolation wards.

The authorities have also defended the use of mandatory quarantine camps, arguing that most of Hong Kong's notoriously cramped apartments are too small for families to self-isolate safely.