“I think the worst part is not knowing when I will be able to go out,” he said. “You almost feel like you’re back to school, with controlled wake and bed times, (and) not being able to control what you can eat.”
On December 19, Chan flew to Hong Kong from London to start a new job.
Chan said he was fully vaccinated with a booster and tested negative for Covid-19 several times before his flight. He was mentally prepared for quarantine, but not for what happened next, he said.
Upon arriving in Hong Kong, Chan took a mandatory Covid-19 test and waited hours at the airport. His result was determined to be “preliminarily positive”, which means he had to take another test. He was then transferred to an area cordoned off with a makeshift bed.
“It was definitely a bit of a shell shock,” Chan said. “Having done so many tests in the week before my flight, and all of them came back negative… I never thought I would actually be positive on arrival.”
Some 13 hours after his plane landed, Chan was taken by ambulance to a nearby hospital for further testing. He was later confirmed to have the Omicron variant, although he remained asymptomatic.
“(I had) this feeling of dread, where you kind of go, ‘Oh, my God, what’s going to happen now?’” He said. “I felt really trapped… you can’t just say, ‘I’m going to take a flight and go somewhere else. “You’re really just trapped there so that was a pretty scary feeling.”
It’s not just travelers who face indefinite hospitalization when they test positive for Covid-19 in Hong Kong.
In recent days, Hong Kong has identified a number of cases of Omicron in a cluster linked to flight attendants – breaking a streak of nearly three months without a locally transmitted Covid infection. People confirmed to be infected were also sent to hospital.
Meanwhile, hundreds of people, including more than 20 restaurant workers considered close contacts of the positive cases, were sent to the government camp for 21 days of isolation and extensive testing. Any positive result would mean a transfer to the hospital.
Anyone who visited the same premises as the positive cases at around the same time in recent days have also been ordered to take a test, while several residential buildings linked to the cluster have been temporarily locked down for mass testing. .
As fears of local Omicron transmission grow, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said on Tuesday that the resumption of normal travel between the city and mainland China “will have to wait a while.”
Just before the cluster emerged, Lam reaffirmed Hong Kong’s zero Covid position.
“Hong Kong has taken very strict measures to guard against the importation of cases in order to maintain zero local infections,” she said in a Dec. 28 statement. “In the face of Omicron’s fierce onslaught, we must be even more vigilant.”
Stuck in the hospital
According to Hong Kong authorities, the minimum isolation period for anyone who tests positive for Covid-19 – even if they are asymptomatic – is almost a month. They must stay in the hospital for at least 10 days and are not allowed to be discharged until they have tested negative twice in a row, however long it takes.
But even a negative test twice doesn’t mean you can go home. After that, people with a confinement order are transferred to an isolation center for an additional 14 days.
Upon arrival at the hospital, Chan was placed in an isolation room with two other travelers who tested positive, also with Omicron. He is confined to his room 24 hours a day with no fresh air or outdoor exercise.
Her day follows a routine established by the hospital. At 8 a.m., he is awakened by a jingle on the public address system and an announcement reminding him to take his own vital signs.
He receives meals provided by the hospital at fixed times. In the meantime, he spends his day connecting with family and friends on social media and watching Netflix.
“I would say the start or the middle of the afternoon was probably the hardest part of the day,” he said. “In the morning you check your emails or your social media. But by the time lunch arrives, that’s when you’re like, ‘I don’t really know what I’m going to do.'”
Although he has said his doctors are professional, they are unable to tell him when he will be released. “It all depends on when I stop testing positive and then they start the final countdown from that point,” he said.
Mental assessment of isolation
Since the start of the pandemic, Hong Kong has confirmed more than 12,600 cases and 213 deaths, according to government figures – far fewer than many cities of comparative size elsewhere in the world.
Absorption has been particularly low in the elderly, a group considered to be at greatest risk for hospitalization and death from Covid-19.
In a December 29 statement, the Hong Kong government reiterated that its strict measures are here to stay, including its own large-scale quarantine facility.
“Recently, the global epidemic situation has worsened considerably due to the Omicron variant,” the statement said. “The government must remain vigilant to avoid an epidemic or a fifth wave epidemic in the community. After considering the situation holistically and cautiously, the government considers it necessary to reserve all rooms at the PBQC. [Penny’s Bay Quarantine Centre] to meet the quarantine goal. “
“In general, there is an increased feeling of isolation, anxiety and, in some severe cases, even post-traumatic stress disorder,” said Dr Elisabeth Wong, psychiatrist from Hong Kong.
However, there are tips for maintaining good mental health, she added.
“There are a few tips you can do, like making sure you plan your day pretty clearly,” Wong said. “So you have time to rest and time to work… and, as much as you can, build some sort of exercise into the day. “
Rather than seeing quarantine as a punishment, she said, people who go through the experience may also view it as an act of selflessness. “You are doing something good for society,” she added.
But as his period of indefinite isolation lengthens, Chan said he worries about his mental health.
“I’m trying to streamline it, I just think going through the processes knowing that there are some things you can and can’t change… the only thing I can change is the way I approach it and what I do with my time, ”he said.
“The best part, I guess, is being able to see things from a different perspective,” he added. “(I’m trying) to make it something useful, something interesting to hopefully someday remember that moment when I sat in a hospital room for X days.”