by Jerome Taylor and Holmes Chan

The United States advised citizens on Wednesday against travelling to Hong Kong, citing strict coronavirus curbs and the risk of children being separated from parents as the Chinese city battles a wave of infections.

State Department
The US State Department. Photo: Wikicommons.

“The Department of State has updated the Travel Advisory for Hong Kong to Level 4 — Do Not Travel due to COVID-19 and COVID-19 related restrictions, including the risk of parents and children being separated,” the US consulate said in a statement on Twitter. 

“In some cases, children in Hong Kong who test positive have been separated from their parents and kept in isolation until they meet local hospital discharge requirements,” the State Department added in a statement.

The higher travel warning by the United States is the first time such separations have been specifically cited in an advisory.

Level 4 is the State Department’s highest level for a travel advisory.

Carrie Lam Covid-19 China Hong Kong emblem
Chief Executive Carrie Lam holds a press conference on February 22, 2022 to announce details of the compulsory universal testing plan. Photo: GovHK.

The Asian financial hub is in the grip of its worst coronavirus outbreak, registering tens of thousands of new cases each day, overwhelming hospitals and shattering the city’s zero-Covid strategy.

More than 200,000 infections have been recorded in the last two months, compared with just 12,000 for the rest of the pandemic — while its death rate is currently four times Singapore’s. 

For two years Hong Kong kept infections largely at bay using a strict zero-Covid strategy but an outbreak of the highly infectious Omicron variant has been tearing through the city since January.

The government was caught flat-footed with few plans in place to deal with a mass outbreak despite the two-year breathing room afforded by the zero-Covid success.

asia's world city police covid-19 covid
Photo: Courtesy of Britt Clennett.

In recent weeks Hong Kong has seen overflowing hospitals and morgues, shortages of medics and ambulances, panic buying and a frantic expansion, with mainland China’s help, of spartan quarantine camps and temporary hospitals to house the infected.

The outbreak has led to the imposition of the toughest restrictions yet with more than a dozen types of businesses ordered to close and a ban on more than two people gathering in public. 

UK, Australia fears

Departures by foreign residents have spiked while businesses have voiced growing frustration and alarm over the city’s descent into further international isolation. 

Last week it emerged some parents were being separated from children — including babies — who had tested positive.

Hong Kong health authorities have defended the policy of separating sick children from their uninfected parents, saying that rapidly filling hospital spaces should be reserved for patients. 

Last week, British Consul General Brian Davidson said his team had “robustly challenged” the Hong Kong government over the practice of separating infants from parents, while the Australian consulate said it had also taken up the issue with authorities.

The US State Department also warned that travellers in Hong Kong may be subject to mandatory virus testing. 

Under an order by Beijing to return to zero-Covid, city leader Carrie Lam has ordered all 7.4 million residents to be tested later this month. 

Details are currently scant on how this will work and where the infected will be housed. 

But authorities have made clear they do not want people recovering at home, deepening fears of separation for many families.

In a study released Tuesday, experts at the University of Hong Kong estimated 1.7 million Hong Kongers — roughly a quarter of the population — had already been infected in the current wave.

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