Individuals who refuse to comply with quarantine orders requiring them to be sent to community isolation facilities may commit the offence of obstructing public officers, the Hong Kong security chief has said.

Secretary for Security Chris Tang visited the Tsing Yi community isolation facility built from container units on Sunday. There are about 800 people currently housed at the facility, which has space for 3,900 Covid-19 patients with mild symptoms, according to a Security Bureau statement issued early on Monday morning. The figure translates to a 17 per cent occupancy rate.

Chris Tang visiting The Tsing Yi isolation facility on Sunday.
Chris Tang visiting the Tsing Yi isolation facility on Sunday. Photo: HK government handout.

During his visit, Tang did not respond directly to reporters’ questions as to whether occupancy was low because of logistical hurdles, or whether it was because patients refused to be sent to isolation facilities. However, any refusal to adhere to isolation orders would fall afoul of the law, he said.

“If they refuse, they may have committed the offence of obstructing public officers engaged in public duty, and may be fined HK$5,000 and jailed for two months,” he said. “If confirmed patients tried to escape after checking in [at the facility,] they may also be fined HK$5,000 and jailed for six months.”

The occupancy rate has “ups and downs” and it would take time to clean the rooms after people moved out, Tang said.

covid covid-19 quarantine tsing yi isolation
Tsing Yi Covid-19 quarantine facility. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Over 50 people who tested positive for Covid-19 told HKFP last week that they kept their infection from the government, citing fears of chaotic arrangements at quarantine camps, not wishing to overload hospitals, or simply because they could not get through to government Covid hotlines.

As Omicron spreads in the city, the government has ramped up construction of temporary isolation and treatment facilities in Tsing Yi, the Kai Tak Cruise Terminal, San Tin close to the Shenzhen border, Yuen Long as well as Hung Shui Kiu to house patients with mild symptoms. The government said it now offers about 16,000 rooms and bed spaces for isolating Covid-19 patients, with an overall occupancy rate of about 40 per cent, the bureau said.

But as the city records over 30,000 infections a day, overwhelmed public hospital doctors said these community facilities are of little help, as they only house patients with mild symptoms who can care for themselves independently. Hospitals are already stretched beyond capacity with a large number of serious, elderly bedridden patients in need of constant oxygen supply and round-the-clock nursing, such as feeding, or diaper-changing.

Dispatches from Tsing Yi

One Covid-19 patient sent to isolation at Tsing Yi said officers had refused to tell her where she would be sent. She was also supplied with “unhealthy” meals including deep fried chicken and pork chop with rice, iCable reported. “It’s not a question of whether it’s heavy, but [I’ve got] a sore throat problem,” she told the broadcaster.

The bathrooms were shared among around two dozen people living in the units and female toilets were equipped with urinals, the patient said.

covid covid-19 quarantine tsing yi isolation
Tsing Yi Covid-19 quarantine facility. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Another patient who checked in at Tsing Yi after lunch hour told Oriental Daily that he was not given any dinner. After threatening to commit suicide, he was told meal time was over and given cup noodles instead.

Other Tsing Yi residents reported that families of three or below may stay in the same room. Rooms were equipped with an air conditioner and desk lamps. They were also supplied with kettles, electrical extension adapters, pillows and bedding. They were also given food and bottled water.

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Selina Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist who previously worked with HK01, Quartz and AFP Beijing. She also covered the Umbrella Movement for AP and reported for a newspaper in France. Selina has studied investigative reporting at the Columbia Journalism School.