A Hong Kong district councillor has urged the government to shelve its plan to use two blocks of a new Fanling public housing estate as Covid-19 isolation facilities, emphasising that the move could pose a health risk to nearby residents.

Jasper Law, a district councillor who serves the Queen’s Hill constituency in Fanling, said in a press conference on Friday that Queen’s Hill Estate was not a “vacant estate,” as Chief Executive Carrie Lam put it on Tuesday when announcing that two blocks in it would be used to house Covid-19 patients.

sham shui po makeshift covid hospital
Wong Ching House at Queen’s Hill Estate in Fanling, one of the housing blocks that the government has proposed converting into quarantine quarters. Photo: Hillary Leung/HKFP.

He said that while the two blocks were empty, residents had already started moving into the estate’s five other blocks before the Chinese New Year.

“Residents feel anxious and uneasy about this,” Law, who is also chairperson of the North District Council, said. “The government has said that [Omicron] is very transmissible. In that case, aren’t they creating additional risks of the virus spreading with this plan?”

According to Lam, blocks one and seven of Queen’s Hill Estate – Wong Yet House and Wong Ching House – will be used as Covid-19 isolation quarters for low-risk patients with mild or no symptoms. Existing facilities have been overwhelmed in the face of Hong Kong’s growing fifth-wave outbreak.

jasper law queen's hill estate covid isolation facility
District councillor Jasper Law and Mr. Wong, owner of a Sheung Shui barbecue site who said the government can consider using his space as a makeshift Covid-19 hospital. Photo: Facebook/Jasper Law

Holding up a map of the estate, Law said the two housing blocks occupy the leftmost and rightmost side of the estate, with other buildings and a shopping mall in between.

“Block one, which will be used as an isolation facility, and block two are only around 30 meters apart,” he said. “Anti-epidemic staff would also be using the same public transport as other residents, and they might eat at the mall after work.”

“It is also unclear if the shopping mall and carpark will also be used as part of the anti-epidemic work. If so, that will overlap with resident’s community facilities,” he added.

A man who joined Law for the press conference, surnamed Wong, said the government could use his empty barbecue site in Sheung Shui to build a makeshift hospital instead of converting the blocks in Queen’s Hill Estate into isolation facilities.

“Massive trouble”

Law also said the use of the housing blocks as isolation facilities would delay the move-in date for residents, many of whom are low-income tenants.

“This arrangement creates massive trouble to a lot of grassroots residents waiting to move into their flat,” Law said.

Penny's Bay Covid-19 quarantine centre on Lantau
Penny’s Bay, formerly a Covid-19 quarantine centre, has been converted into an isolation facility for confirmed patients. File photo: GovHK.

The housing blocks at Queen’s Hill Estate are among the premises that Lam said on Tuesday could be converted into Covid-19 isolation facilities. A housing block at the new Lai King Estate in Kwai Chung, hotels and student dormitories may also be used to house patients as Hong Kong continues to confirm daily case loads in the thousands.

In the early days of the pandemic, when the government proposed using the newly built Fai Ming Estate in Fo Tan as a Covid-19 quarantine facility, demonstrators responded by hurling petrol bombs at the lobby in protest. They said the plan would pose a health risk in the densely populated area.

Instead, another public housing estate, Chun Yeung Estate – at the time a newly completed housing estate – further away from residents was used for quarantine purposes. It was designated as a quarantine facility from February 2020 to July 2020, when it was handed back to the Hong Kong Housing Authority as the local epidemic situation eased.

The city recorded 3,629 Covid-19 cases on Friday, and 10 related deaths in the past 24 hours. Lam also said that city-wide Covid-19 testing is currently “under consideration,” but did not give further details.

Hong Kong has reported 40,700 Covid-19 cases and 248 deaths since the pandemic started.

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Hillary Leung

Hillary has an interest in social issues and politics. Previously, she reported on Asia broadly - including on Hong Kong's 2019 protests - for TIME Magazine and covered local news at Coconuts Hong Kong.