A Hong Kong resident at a coronavirus quarantine centre has complained over the slow and confusing admission arrangements. Water Ng, a 46-year-old radiotherapist, told HKFP it took over three days for him to enter the camp after he was found to have taken a flight with someone infected with the SARS-like virus.

The new coronavirus, originating in Wuhan, China, has spread globally causing more than 37,000 infections and over 800 deaths. The Hong Kong government has been requiring people who have been in close contact with confirmed cases to enter quarantine. There were 36 confirmed cases locally as of Monday, including one death.

“The arrangement was poor,” Ng told HKFP. “If I went to different places [before entering the camp], I might have spread the virus elsewhere. By that time, putting me in quarantine would have been meaningless,” he said.

Hong Kong residents vie for masks. Photo: Jimmy Lam/United Social Press.

Ng said that he took a Hong Kong Express flight from Tokyo back to Hong Kong, landing in the early hours of February 2.

However, he was unaware that there was a person with a confirmed case of the new coronavirus on the flight – a 56-year-old Tsing Yi man – until February 5, three days later. A relative told him of the news and asked him to call the government’s Centre for Health Protection (CHP).

“I was told to register details including my seat [and] whether I had symptoms, among other things. I asked where the confirmed case sat because I was so worried, but I wasn’t given any information and was told to wait for a call next morning,” he said.

A Hong Kong Express plane. File photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Ng called the CHP at 11:30am the next day, since his boss was asking him for updates, but there was no news. The CHP called him an hour later to tell him that he and his wife were in close contact with the patient on the flight and they had to enter quarantine that afternoon.

“We waited until 6pm and were finally told that the camp was full and we should quarantine at home. But this entirely relied on our self-discipline [to stay inside],” he said.

The next day, the CHP called again and told him that he will enter a camp that evening, though no time was given. A driver was eventually sent to pick them up from their home in Western Mid-levels at 7pm to escort them to the Lady MacLehose Holiday Village in Sai Kung, but the driver could not find his address, according to Ng.

Lady MacLehose Holiday Village. Photo: GovHK.

Ng said he was told that another vehicle would come, but he refused as it would be after 9pm when it arrived, and even later when they entered the camp. Eventually, he was picked up at 9am on February 8 from his home – three days after he called the CHP.

The CHP later told HKFP that he was transferred to a quarantine centre at around noon on February 8.

Ng said that, after he entered the camp, a staff member made a mistake and did not replace the plastic cover of the ear temperature measuring equipment after checking his wife’s temperature: “It could have caused cross-infection… The staff were very sloppy,” he said.

Police guarding the Lady MacLehose Holiday Village in Sai Kung. Photo: Apple Daily.

Ng said those inside the camp were provided with food, water and drinks, bedsheets and unlimited masks, but they lacked entertainment and the internet was slow. He will be allowed to go home on Sunday if he does not show any symptoms.

The CHP told HKFP on Monday that it arranges transport “as soon as practicable. Factors including the number of transferral on the day and the time required for the persons under quarantine to get prepared for transferral may affect the exact timing of transferral.”

Correction February 11: This article previously stated that Mr Ng entered a quarantine camp on February 9. It was February 8 instead.

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Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.