Tourism sector proposes Disneyland hotels as quarantine centers

February 11, 2020 11:38
Some people in the government admit that the Hong Kong Disneyland hotels have an advantage over other locations in terms of their potential for being transformed into quarantine centers. Photo: Bloomberg

On top of closing 10 of the city's 13 border crossings to the mainland, the SAR government stepped up its efforts in fighting the coronavirus outbreak last week by mandating that anybody who enters the territory from the mainland must be quarantined for 14 days upon arrival.

But the administration has ruled out a full border shutdown at this stage, despite mounting public calls for such a measure.

Apart from the controversy over whether or not to enforce a full border closure, the SAR government is facing another equally difficult and pressing issue: finding sufficient locations to set up quarantine centers.

According to a government figure, finding more suitable places and transforming them into quarantine centers is one of the most urgent tasks facing the administration right now.

If the government is unable to address the shortage of quarantine centers, it will definitely be hamstrung in its efforts to contain the outbreak.

First, according to the source, there are currently over 1,000 Hong Kong residents left stranded not only in Wuhan but also across the entire Hubei province, the epicenter of the epidemic.

As such, the government must make sure there are enough facilities to quarantine them for 14 days before it can arrange for chartered flights to bring them home.

Since these Hong Kong citizens have been trapped in high-risk infected areas for quite a long time, and could have been exposed to the coronavirus, each and everyone of them must be kept in quarantine after they have returned from the mainland.

Second, as the SAR government may further tighten the entry threshold in the coming days, the demand for quarantine facilities is likely to soar. And the last thing the administration wants to see is the existing facilities getting overcrowded, the person added.

Given that the availability of single rooms with independent bathrooms is the most basic requirement for any up-to-standard quarantine center – otherwise, it is very easy for cross-infection to occur – the government is now setting its sights on hotels. It is actively preparing to turn the Heritage Lodge of the Jao Tsung-I Academy in Lai Chi Kok into a quarantine center, and also plans to use an uninhabited public housing estate in Fo Tan.

The administration has recently approached a number of people in the tourism industry to put out feelers on which local hotels would make a suitable place for quarantine centers, only to be declined by most hotel operators who are worried about a fierce backlash from local residents.

Amid the authorities’ desperation for quarantine locations, some people in the tourism sector have suggested that one or two of the three Hong Kong Disneyland Hotels may be considered for the purpose.

They pointed out that the idea has solid merits.

First, as the Disneyland Hotels are not far away from to the Chek Lap Kok Airport, it would make it convenient for authorities to transfer visitors arriving from the mainland by air to the quarantine centers.

Besides, since the Disneyland Hotels are far from any residential neighborhood, designating them as quarantine centers is unlikely to provoke opposition from the public.

Moreover, as the Disneyland theme park is currently closed due to the coronavirus outbreak, and the majority of its hotel rooms are lying idle, the Disney company might find it more cost-effective to rent out these empty rooms to the government as temporary quarantine centers.

Lawmaker Wilson Or Chong-shing from the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong last week proposed that the administration use the 60 hectares of land initially earmarked for the phase-two development of the Disneyland park to build temporary quarantine shelters.

Some in the government admitted that geographically speaking, the Disneyland hotels do have an advantage over other locations in terms of their potential for being transformed into quarantine centers.

The problem is that even if the government accepts this proposal, it must first seek the approval of the Walt Disney Company in the United States before it can start working on it, or else it might lead to litigation or even an international dispute.

But sources familiar with the matter revealed that, since the Walt Disney Company has reservations on the government’s use of its Hong Kong Disneyland hotels for quarantine facilities, both sides are still in the negotiation stage and there has been no progress in the talks, HKEJ reported on Saturday.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Feb 4

Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Columnist of Hong Kong Economic Journal.