Marco Lo, 30, was having lunch in a Chinese restaurant on the second day of the Lunar New Year with his family.
Little did he know the simple meal was the beginning of an ordeal that would see him being down with COVID-19, waiting for hours in the cold to get treated and constantly worrying that his family would also catch the virus.
On Feb. 7, 2022 — a few days after the meal — Lo and his family were notified by the LeaveHomeSafe tracing app that an infected person had been to the same restaurant around the same time as them on Feb. 2.
He quickly got tested the same day. Around that time, he started to feel seriously unwell.
“I had a runny nose and blocked nose,” said Lo. “I felt so tired and had no energy to do anything. It’s like I couldn’t think properly.”
While waiting for the result, the gym trainer went out less, worried that he might have contracted the virus and would infect others.
Two days later on Feb. 9, he got his test result.
He was also told to stay at home while waiting for admission to hospitals or other isolation facilities.
But his condition worsened rapidly overnight and he had a bout of severe diarrhea.
“I went to the toilet six to seven times that night. There was some bleeding,” said Lo.
His family called the ambulance the next day and he was sent to Caritas Medical Centre in Sham Shui Po.
After finding out he had been infected with the coronavirus, staff at the hospital stopped him from entering the accident and emergency department, and he was asked to wait in some outdoor tents.
“It was quite cold,” he recalled, but added staff there gave him a blanket to keep warm.
A staff member told him he would need to wait two to three days to be admitted, but there was no guarantee.
After around five hours, he was given some antibiotics, which he was told might help with his diarrhea but not the coronavirus.
He decided to leave after getting the medication so he could at least rest at home.
“There were more than 10 patients waiting there, including children and elderly. I heard some of them had been waiting for two to three days,” said Lo.
“I felt so helpless. Besides waiting, what can you do? I understand we have to wait as there are a lot of COVID-19 cases in Hong Kong now, but why is the arrangement so messy? They could at least tell us how long we have to wait and what to expect.”
Lo said he did not receive any information from the Centre for Health Protection from Feb. 9, the day he was notified that he was preliminary positive, to Feb. 12, when he was informed he would be sent to the isolation camp at Penny’s Bay on Feb. 14.
He added that there appeared to be no contact between the center and the hospital as staff at the medical center did not know he was a COVID-19 case until he told them.
But for Lo, the bigger worry is spreading the virus to his family.
“I’m very worried about infecting my family. I live with my mother and father, who is now over 70 years old,” he said.
Lo added that his eldest and elder brothers, as well as his elder brother’s girlfriend, who all went to the restaurant, also moved in to stay with them for the time being as they feared they were carrying the virus and could infect friends or family they live with.
But it was difficult to prevent the spread of the virus in the flat they were living in. It only has one bathroom, which six of them shared.
“The only thing we could do was to keep sanitizing the bathroom with a spray every hour,” he said.
“We also wore masks all day at home and took turns to eat.”
Despite their efforts, his eldest brother also got a preliminary positive result on Feb. 12.
“He was so ill and had to stay in bed to rest. He coughed a lot and was very tired,” Lo recalled.
He added that his mother, father and his elder brother’s girlfriend also got a positive result for rapid antigen tests and are waiting for PCR tests for confirmation.
His parents also started coughing, but he said he was thankful their symptoms were not too serious for now.
“I was the only one who went to the toilet at the restaurant and the first to get infected, so I might have caught the virus there,” said Lo. “I feel bad. It is possible that my whole family will get infected.”
Lo and his eldest brother finally got places in isolation facilities at Penny’s Bay on Feb. 14 and AsiaWorld-Expo on Feb. 15 respectively.
The gym trainer said he was mostly well, besides having a slight sore throat, by the time he entered the isolation facility. During the five-day wait, he took flu medication, vitamin C and drank a lot of water.
Reflecting on the experience, he said he couldn’t believe this would happen to his family.
“We did our best to maintain hygiene and got jabbed,” said Lo, who has received three doses of the BioNTech vaccine.
“We did everything we can, but when I still got infected and wanted to isolate away from home to protect my family, I couldn’t get help quickly.”
He said the government should be faster in preparing more isolation facilities, so that he did not have to stay home for so long after he was infected.
Lo is now waiting for a negative test result so he can be discharged from Penny’s Bay.
But he won’t be going home immediately.
“My family members who are still at home could be positive, so if I go back, I might get infected again,” said Lo.
“I guess I have to spend some money to book a hotel room for the time being.”