Hong Kong, China – Collecting sewage samples, mandatory mass testing and sealing of residential buildings for days, Hong Kong is extinguishing its worst COVID-19 outbreak by removing a page from a Beijing textbook – much to the dismay of its residents.
At Kwai Chung Estate, the site of a growing Omicron outbreak, authorities blocked three blocks in five to seven days. On Thursday, the city, which has adopted a strict “zero COVID” policy to bring it in line with mainland China, posted a daily record of 164 cases.
Many residents of the public housing complex, especially those who live hand in hand, are struggling with the psychological and financial consequences of the recent tightening of measures at the International Financial Center.
Wong, a 28-year-old beauty salon worker who lives at the mansion, told Al Jazeera that she panicked when the government announced the latest restrictions last Friday.
Wong lost his earnings earlier this month after the Hong Kong government closed businesses, including bars, gyms and beauty salons.
The announcement that 2,700 residents of Yat Kwai House will not be able to leave their apartment block has left Wong unable to start working as a part-time waitress to make up for lost income. Her father, who works as a driver, was also left without income.
Amid growing cases, authorities on Tuesday extended the blockade of Wong’s building by another two days until Saturday. The government has not offered any financial support to residents locked in their homes.
The pressure to make ends meet comes on top of fears that they are not safe in their own apartment.
“There is a great fear of cross-infection,” said Wong, who asked not to use her own name, noting that some neighbors who initially took a negative test became infected during a home quarantine.
Residents complain of poor coordination by authorities during the blockade, which is being implemented for the first time in a city that kept the virus at bay during much of the pandemic with some of the world’s strictest border restrictions.
Without proper triage for the first few days, residents queuing up for their mandatory tests flooded elevators and the lobby, increasing the chance of cross-infection in the building.
Some residents who tested positive waited up to 35 hours before receiving any treatment or medical care. Others said they had not received the government-provided lunch box and lacked basic supplies. A number of households in the Kwai Chung Estate and several other residential complexes were evacuated to a hotel or quarantine center due to alleged vertical and horizontal transmission.
For some, the emotional stress was too much to bear. On Thursday morning, a man hung from the roof of a block and tried to jump before firefighters hit him.
Lee, a 30-year-old security guard who also lives at Yat Kwai House, told Al Jazeera that he feared being forced to quarantine more than catch the disease. He has already lost his attendance bonus for missed shifts. If the block is extended again, its operation will also be put at risk.
“I am constantly worried that I will have to be quarantined just because I’m in the wrong place at the wrong time,” said Lee, who called on the government to issue financial support and a notice to residents to show employers if the measures will continue in a week. .
Lee also complained about unsanitary conditions and the accumulation of garbage on each floor. All 40 cleaners who serviced the apartment complex were sent to the government quarantine camp after one was positive and spread the virus to other residents and staff of the building.
Hong Kong is one of the few places that still maintains a “zero COVID” position, although critics say the policy is increasingly unsustainable. Local experts predict that the latest wave could last until April or May.
In a leaked draft report, the city’s European Chamber of Commerce warned earlier this week that Hong Kong’s international isolation could extend until 2024, spurring large-scale emigration of foreign companies and employees.
“What’s the point of zero COVID?”
Given Omicron’s shorter incubation period, the Hong Kong government announced on Thursday that it would reduce the hotel’s quarantine period for incoming passengers from 21 days to 14 days from next Saturday. The newcomers are expected to conduct a seven-day self-monitoring after the quarantine.
Other measures to control the pandemic, including school closures, a 6pm curfew for dining in restaurants and a ban on flights from high-risk countries, will remain in place until at least the end of February.
Speaking on Thursday, hours after Sofia Chan, the city’s health chief told Bloomberg that Hong Kong had the virus under control – CEO Kari Lam warned that the situation was still precarious.
“It’s certainly not a situation that gives us comfort or confidence that it’s under control,” Lam said, citing 30 untraceable cases, the possibility of silent transmission circuits and virus traces in tested wastewater samples. “We expect that at any time there may be an exponential increase in cases and lead to a massive epidemic in the community.
For Nick Lyung, the government’s insistence on elimination makes no sense. The 28-year-old fitness trainer moved his classes outdoors after gyms were forced to close, but his income has still fallen by more than half. During the block, he lost about HK $ 1,300 ($ 167) every day.
“If you look around the world, people are no longer tested or vaccinated,” Lung said. “The symptoms are so mild that many of them do not need to be hospitalized and will naturally recover. So what’s the point of a zero COVID strategy?