Family of 9 caught up in Hong Kong's Covid-19 care crisis

The room in Penny's Bay quarantine centre is bigger than a carpark lot with an attached toilet and minimum furnishings, including two single beds and table and chair. PHOTOS: PENNY CHAN

HONG KONG - Ms Penny Chan, a 35-year-old public relations executive in the city, has been confined to a room about the size of a carpark lot just 800m from Disneyland.

She has been in the room at the much-talked about Penny's Bay quarantine camp for more than two weeks.

Ms Chan, along with eight other family members, including her parents, husband, brother and cousin's family, were infected with the Omicron variant of the coronavirus after attending two dinners at the start of Chinese New Year festivities.

Ms Chan, who is the only one in the family still in isolation, is still waiting for someone to tell her if her CT value or cycle threshold is safe enough to be let out.

"The process at Penny's Bay is not transparent at all. They don't tell you anything - not when you're to be tested, not the results after testing. They just ask you to wait," she told The Sunday Times.

In Hong Kong, those who test positive for Covid-19 cases used to be hospitalised. But, due to the exponential rise in infections, those with mild symptoms are now taken to AsiaWorld-Expo, which is next to Hong Kong's International Airport, other community isolation facilities, such as Penny's Bay, or made to stay at home.

Describing the whole experience as "very confusing and chaotic", Ms Chan said that unlike her other family members, she was the only one who tested negative initially.

As a close contact, she was still sent to a quarantine hotel where she later returned a positive result. Subsequently she was sent to Penny's Bay, which now houses 2,400 people.

"I'd already recovered when I was in the quarantine hotel but I'm still in Penny's Bay because I don't have my results," Ms Chan said.

Ms Penny Chan says when she almost runs out of items like bottled water, she needs to message the operator and get the supplies five or six hours later, due to the shortage of manpower. PHOTO: PENNY CHAN
Ms Penny Chan's meal at the quarantine centre. PHOTO: PENNY CHAN

Her other family members also had a trying time for two weeks.

Her parents, who are in their 60s, were fortunate to be admitted into the hospital, but were transferred from ward to ward.

Her cousin, whose three-year-old toddler was running a fever, sought treatment at an accident and emergency (A&E) unit, and was told to leave the girl alone in the hospital as there was no spare bed for the parent.

"My cousin was obviously not willing so she waited 12 hours until they could find another hospital with a mother-daughter bed," Ms Chan noted.

Then there's the cousin's husband who had to undergo a mini tour across different facilities - from North Lantau Hospital to Penny's Bay, to AsiaWorld-Expo and then back to Penny's Bay.

Still, Ms Chan considers her family lucky as they were infected when daily case figures in the city hit 2,000 to 3,000.

Hong Kong on Saturday (Feb 19) reported more than 6,000 cases, bringing the total number in the city since the pandemic began to more than 46,700 and over 250 deaths. Health officials reported another 7,400 preliminary positive cases on Saturday.

The surge in infections have stretched the city's understaffed healthcare system and isolation facilities to the limit, and officials are now scrambling to contain the situation with help from the mainland.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam on Saturday said construction teams from the mainland would help build 10,000 isolation and treatment units for those infected at Penny's Bay and Kai Tak.

On Friday, she said her team was working out the details of a mass testing plan in March, to get all Hong Kongers tested - a move that would avoid a citywide lockdown.

Local reports said the testing would be carried out in batches and each resident had to take a test every week for three weeks.

Local reports said mass Covid-19 testing would be carried out in batches and each resident had to take a test every week for three weeks. PHOTO: AFP

Not everyone is convinced about the efficacy of the measure.

"lf one cannot even isolate detected cases in time, what is the purpose in doing such mass testing?" said Dr Leung Chi Chiu, who specialises in respiratory medicine.

He believed the key was to resolve the issue of inadequate isolation facilities because testing without isolation would be futile.

In recent days, developers Sino Group and Swire Properties have pitched in to add more than 1,000 rooms for isolation purposes, while New World Development said it would free up the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre for community testing. Henderson Land Development said it would let the government build a makeshift hospital on a two million sq ft site near Lam Tsuen.

The pledges come after China's President Xi Jinping on Wednesday called on the Hong Kong government to make curbing the Covid-19 surge the top priority and to mobilise all manpower and resources towards this effort.

Ms Chan herself is disappointed with her government's handling of the crisis.

"I know the situation is severe and there aren't enough hospital staff, but I'm very angry about the fact that over the past two years, the government didn't prepare for the worst. Why is it that now that there's a crisis, things are so poorly handled?" she said recently.

But that has been little comfort to the thousands stuck in Penny's Bay. Like most, Ms Chan is just waiting for the day to leave and reunite with her family.

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