Hong Kong residents returning from the United States are being forced to spend one week in a 'spartain' quarantine camp, after which they must serve out two weeks in a hotel room that they pay for themselves, according to the South China Morning Post.
The new measures which were announced on Friday come after the city's health authorities elevated the country to the highest Covid-19 risk level, prompted by one confirmed case of the Omicron variant in a traveler from the US - an asymptomatic 37-year-old man who had received two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and traveled from Los Angeles on Dec. 7.
In a press release, the city said that those arriving from the US would be subject to the "most stringent quarantine and testing requirements," which would take effect on Monday.
"Hong Kong has in place the most stringent inbound prevention and control measures in the world that enabled the successful prevention of the omicron variant from entering the community," reads a statement announcing the new policy for returnees from the US.
Travelers from the UK face the same prospect, according to the report.
"It’s stressful and frustrating to travel," said Hong Kong businessman, 60-year-old Sam Wong in a statement to Bloomberg. "My children will have to spend Christmas on their own."
Given the growing number of omicron cases, more countries could well be shifted to the same system, sparking chaos during the busiest travel season as families try to reunite for the holidays.
At a time when the world is progressing in reopening efforts, Hong Kong is pushing in the other direction. The strategy, which has choked off travel to a city once known for its connectedness, is adding to concern in the business community that a Covid-Zero policy even stricter than in parts of mainland China is causing long-term damage to Hong Kong’s status as a financial center. -Bloomberg
"It isolates Hong Kong even further as the rest of the world is getting back to business," said Tara Joseph, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong.
"Hong Kong had been known as a connected city - it advertised being Asia’s World City," she continued, adding "That is clearly no longer the case."
Of note, Hong Kong has virtually no Covid, while approximately 80% of residents aged 80 and above are unvaccinated in the city of 7.4 million people.
The quarantine camp, located at Penny's Bay near Hong Kong Disneyland, offers basic rooms that feature plastic sheets covering mattresses on two single beds - causing some travelers to push them together according to the report. Travelers receive three meals per day and can opt for Chinese or Western food. There is no internet access.
Travelers from the US and UK will be joining those from South Africa and approximately 10 other African nations on a list for government quarantine at the facility. Travelers won't need to book a room at the camp, nor will they be charged for the one-week stay (just the hotel room for the next two weeks).
The camp has a total of 1,926 units - of which more than 1,550 are currently empty.
"As the border control is the key defense line in Hong Kong against omicron, we cannot take any chance," said former chairman of the Hong Kong Medical Association’s advisory committee on communicable diseases, Leung Chi-chiu.
"There is much lower risk of within-facility transmission in Penny’s Bay than in the Designated Quarantine Hotels," said Benjamin Cowling, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Hong Kong. "It would be even more ideal if Penny’s Bay could be expanded or a similar facility could be constructed with 30,000 or more rooms, and then we could reduce quarantine for all arrivals to a maximum of 14 days with perhaps a shorter quarantine for very low risk arrivals."