Since developing a fever on February 3, Siu has not set foot outside her rooftop shanty home, except for once to visit the hospital.
In their 240 square foot home, she and her husband, his 60-year-old mother, and their three sons – the youngest of whom is just eight-months-old – have spent more than two weeks waiting to be relocated to a government Covid-19 quarantine facility, Siu told HKFP. Both Siu’s husband and mother-in-law have received two doses of the Chinese-made Sinovac vaccine.
Hong Kong’s fifth wave Covid-19 outbreak has infected thousands daily, overwheming the city’s public hospitals and isolation facilities. Last week, a health official said that the number of patients awaiting quarantine or treatment had “exceeded the thousands.” Citizens were told that hospitals would prioritise admission for the elderly, children or patients with severe symptoms.
As a result, many who tested positive or preliminary positive for the virus were left with no option but to wait to be picked up by the Department of Health (DoH) at their households, including low-income families living in subdivided flats or rooftop shanties like Siu’s.
Siu told HKFP that her whole family had taken nucleic acid Covid-19 tests on February 5. On February 8, the results came back positive for Siu, her husband and their eight-month-old son.
Since then, they have been waiting for almost two weeks to be transferred to an isolation facility. In the meantime, Siu believes that the disease had spread to her other sons, aged six and three, and to her mother-in-law.
Siu’s family share the only bathroom they have and eat in the same space with each other. “We only took off our masks when it became too exhausting, but you simply cannot tell a three-year-old to wear a mask on all the time,” the 38-year-old mother said.
All six household members recorded fevers reaching over 39 degrees Celsius, including the three children, Siu said. “We had no fever medicine and could only take whatever cough medicine we had.”
As for her own symptoms, she said her bones ached like “ants were biting all over my body,” while feeling fatigued and dizzy. “It was very rough,” she said.
The mother said her youngest son had diarrhoea and they took him to Caritas Medical Centre in fear of dehydration on February 9 or 10. They waited for hours to meet the doctor and were told to return home after getting medicine.
Apart from that one instance, Siu said the family had not left their home. They had no idea how much longer they would have to wait until they could set foot outside the rooftop shanty.
Test kits, wristbands, waiting
When the daily infection numbers were lower, Siu said she could reach the DoH staff on the hotline, albeit after a long wait. When she told them about her family’s situation, they said that they “will mark it down” and told her to “wait at home and the Department of Health will pick you up.”
Nonetheless, it has become impossible to get through the hotline since daily case numbers have surpassed 6,000, Siu said.
Siu received three rapid test kits from the DoH last Thursday. Siu said the results suggested that she and her husband were negative but their three-year-old was positive. They did not test the youngest child.
Then, last Friday, they received six electronic wristbands. Siu said she “had no idea on what they are for.”
Hong Kong authorities made an announcement two days later saying that electronic wristbands and anti-epidemic kits would be distributed to patients awaiting admission at hospital or quarantine centres from Monday.
According to the statement, people who were not admitted to isolation or medical facilities within 14 days since receiving a positive nucleic acid test result would be allowed to leave their household, if they tested negative using a rapid antigen test.
However, the government’s new measures were not yet made public when Siu received the testing kits and wristbands.
Siu was working in the cosmetics industry but has been on maternity leave since giving birth to their youngest son. The family’s financial burden then rested solely on her husband, who worked as a private driver but lost his job since the “home quarantine” began.
Siu said they have been burning through their savings as the family had no way of obtaining any income since the Lunar New Year holidays. She also said they were not able to apply for any governmental subsidies as they could not leave. “It feels like we are left to die, do you understand?” she said.
Since developing a fever on February 3, Siu said the family had been surviving on food provided by the Social Welfare Department, which she said can be applied for once a week.
The family of six were given mostly canned food, instant noodles, bread and boxes of milk, Siu said, but there was a clear lack of vegetables.
“Would you count two packets of pickled vegetables as vegetables?” Siu asked, saying that she was concerned about her children’s nutritional intake.
Not a stand alone case
Siu’s experience was hardly a stand alone case among Hong Kong’s low income households. The Society for Community Organisation (SoCO) hosted a press conference on Sunday, revealing the predicament faced by underprivileged groups while self-isolating at home after contracting the coronavirus.
The concern group for the city’s economically disadvantaged said they received more than 300 inquiries for help in recent days from people who had tested positive or were in home quarantine.
Sze Lai-shan, the vice-chair of SoCO, told the press that underpriviledged people usually rent subdivided flats, cubicle apartments or cage homes, which lack the space for quarantine and could easily lead to cross-transmission if they were not quickly received by hospitals.
In one case Sze shared, a male construction worker who tested positive had to quarantine in an outdoor area on a building’s rooftop for fear of infecting his two young children. During the recent cold, wet weather, when the temperature dipped below 10 degree Celcius, the man burned charcoal to warm himself up and lived his life as if he were homeless.
Sze urged the government to build more isolation facilities, prioritise patients or close-contacts who were homeless or living in “unsuitable places,” and subsidise private medical providers to treat Covid-19 patients.
On Monday, Sze told HKFP that all cases SoCO were handling had lost their source of income during home quarantine and some had already suffered for as long as three weeks. People were calling the government’s hotlines for days but received no response.
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