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Stories of children separated from parents highlight the price of Hong Kong’s coronavirus success

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Ariel he entered the room and looked at his big one.

“We both started crying,” he said.

Ariel’s family was caught in the crosshairs of the inflexible but efficient measures to prevent the Hong Kong pandemic in late February. Although more than 14 months have passed since the territory identified its first case of coronavirus, Hong Kong has shown few signs of easing numerous restrictions.

Almost all residents arriving in the city have to spend 21 days in hotel quarantine at their expense. The restaurants close at 22:00 and the beaches are closed. Public meetings are limited to four people.

The territory tracking program remains one of the strictest in the world. Anyone who tests positive for the virus should go to the hospital, while their close contacts should enter government-run quarantine facilities for up to 14 days. The government frequently conducts “ambush” -type closures, forcing entire buildings or apartment blocks to undergo Covid-19 testing.

Government workers set up a temporary testing center for the Covid-19 cordon on Sunday in front of an apartment block on Robinson Road in Hong Kong.

This approach makes Hong Kong a bit unique. While many governments relax restrictions as vaccination rates increase, Hong Kong seems to be doubling its proven methods as it increases its own vaccine.

From a public health standpoint, there is little discussion of the results. This city of more than 7 million people has only identified about 11,300 cases and 200 deaths, according to government data. And there have been no hard locks.

But the lack of flexibility has left, in several cases, parents like Ariel a heartbreaking decision: go to quarantine and send their children to the hospital alone, or accompany them to the hospital and run the risk of infection -they themselves.

Ariel joined her boys about a day after her admission after spending hours on the phone trying to navigate the bureaucracy of a major health care system and soothe the fears of her crying son.

The scene where she arrived was not what she or her husband had expected when her children were admitted to the hospital as asymptomatic cases the day before. Ariel said they were told their children would be “well cared for by nurses and pediatricians” who were not tied to their beds.

Restrictions and diapers, the nurse told Ariel, were common practice, as hospitals do not have the manpower to care for all children with Covid-19 and want to limit the risk to staff.

“I understand the protocol,” Ariel said, “but as a parent, that’s not acceptable.”

Ariel is a pseudonym that CNN agreed to use to protect her family’s privacy. He hesitated to share his story because of the personal nature of family health care decisions and said he did not want to appear to blame anyone. He agreed to talk about the issue so other parents could learn from his situation and insisted they not separate from the young children.

The newest cluster

Covid-19 cases in Hong Kong have been on the rise since an outbreak linked to a high-end gym in the Sai Ying Pun neighborhood last week.

Government workers wearing personal protective equipment spend Sunday in front of the closed Ursus Fitness gym.

The cluster has hit affluent areas of the city, with bankers and teachers among the scores that have been sent to quarantine camps throughout the territory. Many stay in rooms up to 18 square meters (200 square feet) until they are discharged, including families with young children.

Meals are given and deliveries are allowed under certain conditions, but there are several who say they may not leave the room. Implementing these policies can lead to massive fines for individuals and businesses, or even for prison.

The interior of a room in the quarantine facility of Penny Bay.
The view from a room in Penny's Bay.
There also seems to be an increase in cases of separation of parents from children. A moderator of a popular Facebook group for quarantined Hong Kongers they said they have helped in more than 100 cases of children separated from their families over the past year.

There have been dozens more since the gym group emerged. However, it is unclear whether the rise is due to the fact that more expats (a segment of the population who may be more likely to complain and talk to foreign media) are forced to endure them.

Several new mothers who have tested positive or have been in close contact with positive cases say they have been pressured to comply with government policy to quarantine or isolate themselves from infants, regardless of the age of their children. The World Health Organization recommends it mothers and nursing mothers should stay together if the mother tests positive for Covid-19.

Carrie Lam, the city leader, said Tuesday that the government has “no policy to deliberately separate children from their parents.”

“But public health issues need to be respected, because it’s good for the community at large,” he said.

The Hong Kong Department of Health did not confirm any of these incidents. In an email to CNN, he said family members living with positive Covid-19 patients “will be treated as close contacts and should be quarantined in the quarantine center.”

“For child-related Covid-19 cases, the public hospital will decide, in special circumstances, whether or not their parents can stay with the children in the hospital,” he added.

After denouncing numerous cases of separations this week, the government goes on Tuesday sent a long statement clarifying its policies on quarantine and isolation agreement for families with young children.

“Hong Kong has comprehensive and robust measures to combat Covid-19, which include quarantine and isolation when needed, and these measures are able to stabilize the recent wave of epidemics to safeguard the well-being of our community at large. we also want to emphasize that, in cases where children are involved, each and every decision has been made in the interest of the children and their families, “the statement said.

While these policies have been criticized as overly zealous and inhumane, especially for those who have been left in confined spaces for weeks without fresh air, many also appreciate the government’s effectiveness in maintaining the safety of the general public. .

Following a slower-than-expected adoption of vaccine launches, authorities announced Monday that anyone over the age of 30 (approximately 80% of the population) could apply for vaccinations.

“It is very important that people get vaccinated as soon as possible,” a government spokesman said. “We have decided to expand the reach of priority groups to allow more people to be vaccinated as soon as possible to protect themselves and others.”

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