Quarantine chaos

August 24, 2021 10:06
Photo: Reuters

Complaining about Hong Kong’s Covid quarantine policy when thousands of Afghans are desperately trying to flee Kabul to save their lives, may sound a trifle disconnected from reality.

Nonetheless, everyone does need to focus on what impacts on themselves directly and the current quarantine regime is a terrible mish-mash of impracticability.

Mask wearing and avoidance of close proximity to crowds is necessary whenever and wherever reasonably possible but the majority of the population travels by MTR and bus, hence all precautions have to be judged in terms of practicability if the business of earning a living is to proceed.

There appears to be a universal consensus amongst epidemiologists that Covid, in whatever variation, cannot be exterminated. We are just going to have to learn to live with it and make all sensible adjustments to avoid its worst ramifications.

The world must implement as full a vaccination programme as possible whilst the Drug companies continue their research for ever more effective vaccines.

The one factor on which all the health professionals agree is that the best form of protection against Covid in any of its iterations is vaccination. All the other precautions are only complementary and subsidiary.

The curious conundrum of Hong Kong was its relatively low percentage of vaccinations in the population but the current estimate is that 70% will be fully vaccinated by the end of September 2021. Health experts generally concur that 70% is the magic figure for a resumption of a near normal lifestyle.

Hong Kongers were swift to adopt sensible precautions from the very start and the overwhelming majority followed the guidelines, but there was a marked resistance to getting vaccinated.

One might have thought that government would incentivise vaccination at least by relieving those having received both jabs from the worst rigors of quarantine incarceration, indeed for a relatively short period, those who were double vaccinated and had positive anti-body tests only had to do 7 days.

Then, with alarming speed and at the briefest of notice, the value of all those precautionary measures was cancelled and the sentence of hotel imprisonment was increased to 21 days, notwithstanding double vaccination, negative covid tests and positive anti-body testing.

Everyone who had planned around the previous regulations had their travel arrangements and work commitments wrecked.

Worse, the approved hotels cannot even provide the necessary accommodation and booking schedules are for the birds.

Adding to the orchestrated chaos, we understand that vaccinated
Filipino domestic helpers will be able to enter Hong Kong from 30 August.

Where are all the hotel rooms for those who have to undergo quarantine?

As people reeled from one piece of designer chaos to another, it was learned that Nicole Kidman and her entire film crew had been exempted from the equivalent of the Correctional Services syndrome that the rest of us have to put up with.

But they are not the only exemptions, oh no.

How many government officials skip backwards and forwards across the border into the mainland without let or hindrance?

Then there are the directors of listed financial companies who can apply for exemption.

There are so many holes in Hong Kong’s Covid protective bucket that it is a wonder it can hold any water at all, dear Liza.

The exemptions are said to be justified on the basis that they are essential for the commercial development of the S.A.R., or as the Secretary for Health put it, to carry out activities related to designated professional work.

There are barristers who cannot attend long-standing court hearings because of the change of rules, why is their professional work not designated?

How filming part of one movie, which may or may not finish up on the screen, is going to contribute to our current commercial development, I leave you to calculate for yourselves.

If you recall, originally, permanent residents were quarantined in their own homes.

Then, in what was touted as a means to alleviate the financial straits of the hospitality industry caused by the absence of tourists, quarantine was routed to approved hotels.

What clinical difference is there between quarantine served in the comfort of one’s own home and compulsory hotel servitude? Hardly anyone breached the rules.

Now the hotel industry is complaining, justifiably, that it cannot keep pace with all these rapid changes and countless travellers are unable to get a hotel booking.

Sadly, these Covid regulations stumble from one knee-jerk reaction to another, are the decision makers incapable of comprehending the adverse commercial effects of their ill-considered provisions?

All these spastic measures simply create doubt and confusion, a sure-fire recipe for economic instability.

In lieu of weeks of quarantine, fully vaccinated and positive anti-body tested residents with negative Covid tests should do a basic 7 days in the confines of their own home followed by a schedule of frequent rapid tests over the incubation period. This would restore a semblance of economic balance.

It would also motivate people to get fully vaccinated and anti-body tested as soon as possible.

May we, just for once, enjoy the benefit of some mature, adult thinking on this subject.

If big name celebrities like Nicole Kidman and all the other exempted class Pooh Bahs had to follow this routine, the bulk of the population would not be nursing a sense of being discriminated against by its own government.

Would it not be desirable to have decisions taken that benefit the vast majority of Hong Kong’s people, all of whom have a vested interest in economic development?

There again, the current CE appears to be deaf to any proposal other than one she has dreamed up, almost all of which are designed to benefit a tiny minority. Cosseted in the security of her HK$5 million plus salary, it is hard to appreciate the needs of people less well provided than herself.

As Shakespeare put it, Hong Kong’s Covid regulations for travellers are tales told by an idiot, full of sound and fury but signifying nothing.

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Queen's Counsel