District councillors and social workers are urging authorities to look into the treatment of ethnic minority Hongkongers landing at the airport after reports of some being denied meals or accommodation while waiting for virus test results and quarantine arrangements.
Speaking to reporters at a press conference on Tuesday, Asif Ahamad said his wife and two children landed at the Hong Kong International Airport on at 6am on Sept. 11, and waited 15 hours for their COVID-19 test results. Communication was hampered by language barrier (his wife speaks English and Urdu) and they were only given water in the meantime.
His wife and two children were not allowed to leave after they tested negative, but weren’t told why. Amahad contacted Leslie Chan, a district councillor serving the Tsim Sha Tsui area, who communicated with the staff at the airport and learned that the three would be sent to a quarantine facility at Penny’s Bay because they had come in close contact with a passenger who had tested positive.
With the exception of three pieces of bread, repeated requests for food were turned down.
Sumit Sharma, who spoke at the press conference via video call, said he and his brother arrived in Hong Kong at 6am on Sept. 16. In the interim, they were only given snacks including muffins, biscuits and bread.
Sharma received his negative COVID-19 test result at 9pm or 10pm, but his brother and about a dozen others—including mothers with young children—were told that their test reports were “unidentified.”
Staff told Sharma that they would have to wait till the next morning for results. No arrangements were made to transfer the group to a hotel, and staff only pulled out makeshift beds for them at 3am. Two hours later, they were provided food consisting of potato wedges and chicken wings, which many couldn’t eat due to religious dietary restrictions.
“The Department of Health [were]… giving us junk food after waiting for the food for 27 hours,” Sharma said. “It doesn’t make any sense.”
“We were not given any accommodation,” he added. “It’s just 15 people. If you knew that the results would come on the next day, there should have at least been some arrangements, at least for the hotel rooms, because I don’t think that’s a lot to do.”
Jeffrey Andrews, a social worker who is ethnically Indian, said incidents like this are far from the first time authorities have been inconsiderate towards the rights and needs of the ethnic minority community since the COVID-19 epidemic began.
He pointed out that in April, Center of Health Protection workers mixed up a Nepalese father and son’s test results because the “names are similar.”
In quarantine, South Asians were given meals with pork on their first day of Ramadan, a month during which Muslims observe strict fasting.
“We are talking about cultural sensitivity, religious sensitivity. Hong Kong is an international destination… how can you still make that mistake?” Andrews said.
“We’re not asking for special rights. We’re just asking for dignity. We’re just asking for basic human respect for our religion and our culture.”