Hong Kong to issue sweeping quarantine measures for almost all arrivals as global COVID-19 cases spike

Chief Executive Carrie Lam and Health Secretary Sophia Chan hold up new posters for people under home quarantine. Screengrab via Facebook video/i-Cable.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam and Health Secretary Sophia Chan hold up new posters for people under home quarantine. Screengrab via Facebook video/i-Cable.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam today announced that the SAR will impose mandatory 14-day quarantines on all almost arrivals into the SAR as the number of COVID-19 cases skyrocket in other parts of the world.

Speaking at her weekly morning press conference this morning, Lam announced that starting from midnight on Thursday, March 19, all travelers arriving in Hong Kong — apart from those coming from mainland China, Macau and Taiwan — must be put into compulsory 14-day quarantine or medical supervision.

“From now on, I would say the majority of arrivals in Hong Kong will be put under home quarantine or medical surveillance of some form,” she said. “We will do our best in terms of the monitoring, the surveillance, the telephone calls, the WhatsApp location services, and spot checks.”

In another drastic step, Lam said that red outbound travel alerts — the second highest outbound travel alert after black — will also be issued for all countries, and put into effect as early as today.

Lam noted that that the COVID-19 outbreak had become a worldwide pandemic with the total number of infections abroad exceeding the total in China, the origin of the novel coronavirus. For weeks, China was the only the country with a significant outbreak, but has recently managed to greatly tamp down the number of new infections, even as countries around the world have seen them shoot up in recent days.

In the past two weeks, Hong Kong had recorded 57 new infections, of which 50 were imported, prompting health officials yesterday to remark that the city may be seeing a “second wave” of infections from travelers returning from countries that have seen their number of COVID-19 cases rapidly spike in the last few weeks.

Lam added that the majority of arrivals in Hong Kong will have to be put under home quarantine, and that the three main quarantine centers will be used for more “high-risk” cases, or those who have been in close contact with confirmed cases.

Lam also noted that it’s unlikely that school will resume on April 20.

“Right now we already have over 20,000 active home quarantine cases, we are expecting more,” Lam said. “So I’m appealing to individuals who are being put under home quarantine to have self discipline, to observe, to observe the rules and requirements, to protect themselves and their family members, and ultimately of course protect Hong Kong from a major outbreak.”

Authorities had already announced over the weekend that starting from Thursday, anyone entering Hong Kong from either the U.S., the U.K., Ireland, or Egypt will be forced to undergo mandatory quarantine for 14 days, prompting many Hongkongers either working or studying abroad to scramble to catch flights back home before the Thursday deadline.

Meanwhile, on Monday evening, several ambulances were seen on the tarmac of Hong Kong International Airport after around 30 people arriving from London and Zurich reported feeling unwell.

According to Apple Daily, more than 10 ambulances were sent to take the unwell passengers to Princess Margaret, Yan Chai, and Caritas Hospitals.

RTHK reports that more than 20 of the ill arrivals flew into Hong Kong via a Cathay Pacific flight from London, while Apple Daily has reported that some flew into Hong Kong with Swiss International Airlines from Zurich.

Meanwhile, health officials report that two more people are confirmed to have contracted COVID-19, bringing the total number of cases in Hong Kong to 158.

The two latest cases are two women, aged 41 and 42, who live in Tai Po. Both had recently traveled to Vancouver and Whistler in Canada, and returned to Hong Kong via a Cathay Pacific flight CX837. They flew business class, and anyone who shared the cabin with the two women has been urged to contact the Centre for Health Protection.

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