Hong Kong Covid-19: Parents separated from baby as city clings to zero-Covid

“Bubba, we love you…we’re going to pick you up honey. We will,” Laura says, in a video of a phone call with their child that the parents shared with CNN.

They are in the same city, but Laura and Nick are not allowed to visit Ava at Queen Mary Hospital in Hong Kong, where the baby is recovering from Covid-19 after testing positive on Monday. They asked CNN not to publish their full names for privacy reasons.

The city is not totally in lockdown, but authorities are stepping up measures to tackle its fifth and most severe wave of Covid-19, including rolling out mandatory mass testing of its more than 7 million residents.

The mandatory testing campaign has sparked widespread fears across the city that, as more positive cases are identified, more families could be separated – with children placed in isolation.

In the video, Laura breaks down as Ava sobs. “I can’t stand it,” she says, as her husband makes a desperate plea to a nurse, who appears to be holding the phone.

“Nurse, reassure her, please,” begs Nick, as a nurse in a hazmat suit appears on screen, her face covered by a shield.

According to Hong Kong policy, Ava can only be released if she tests negative seven days after admission. Laura and Nick plan to take a Covid test; they say they hope it will be positive, so they have a chance of reuniting with their daughter in a government-run quarantine camp.

“We’re just helpless. We’re really helpless,” Laura told CNN. “It’s not in her interest for her to be without us. She needs us and we need her.”

Hong Kong’s toughest restrictions

For nearly two years, Hong Kong has relied on a combination of strict quarantines and track-and-trace efforts to isolate positive cases, keeping the city relatively virus-free.

But these measures no longer appear sufficient in the face of the last wave, which the authorities described as a “tsunami”.

Hong Kong has reported about five times as many cases in the past three weeks as the entire pandemic combined. Wednesday, the city reported a record 8,674 new cases – the vast majority being the highly contagious variant of Omicron.

Yet Hong Kong continues to adhere to China’s strict zero-Covid policy, and in an effort to combat the burgeoning fifth wave – which is expected to peak in the next three weeks – the city’s leader, Carrie Lam announced her toughest restrictions on Tuesday. again.

All Hong Kong residents – around 7.4 million people – will be required to undergo three rounds of mandatory Covid-19 tests in March, Lam told a news conference. Between those tests, residents will be required to take daily rapid antigen tests, Lam added.

Public and international schools – which are already running online classes – will pause early in the summer to free up their premises to be used as temporary isolation, screening and vaccination facilities. An existing ban on in-person dining after 6 p.m., the closure of gyms and entertainment venues, and flight bans from nine countries, will be extended until at least April 20.

In a bid to keep Hong Kong strictly in line with its zero Covid strategy, China announced last week that it would send health experts and medical supplies to Hong Kong and help build new quarantine and medical facilities. ‘isolation.

“With the support of the central government and the unity of the people of Hong Kong, we will definitely overcome this pandemic. After the storm, we will see a rainbow again,” Lam said on Tuesday.

Hong Kong sticks to zero-Covid, no matter what

But even Beijing’s help might not be enough.

Modeling by experts from the University of Hong Kong (HKU) predicts the number of confirmed cases peaking at around 183,000 a day in early to mid-March.

Dr. Edwin Tsui, the comptroller for the Center for Health Protection, said mass testing would likely confirm a large number of positive cases which the city would then have to manage.

He said the city’s health system may have to “deal with thousands or tens of thousands of cases…in a very short period of time.”

Covid patients await medical treatment at a temporary shelter in Hong Kong on February 16, 2022.

Families fear separation

Laura and Nick are not the first Hong Kong parents to be separated from their children. During an outbreak last year, there were reports of children being sent to hospital, even though they were asymptomatic.

Ava’s worried parents took her to hospital on Monday after she developed a fever and struggled to breathe. When Ava’s Covid test came back positive, her parents were told to leave, Laura said.

The family’s story was posted on a popular Facebook group and has since spread, sparking panicked discussions among Hong Kong parents about what could happen if their children test positive and they test negative, like Laura and Nick.

Laura with her daughter, Ava.
CNN contacted Lam’s office about the family’s case but did not receive a response. When asked to separate the children from their parents in April last year, Lam reiterated that Hong Kong was a “compassionate government”.

“We have applied this exceptional treatment…instead of sending the very young children alone to a quarantine center…we will also exceptionally accept the admission of children to the hospital,” Lam said.

But as cases soar and Hong Kong insists on sending most positive cases to government-run hospitals or quarantine facilities, the authorities’ stance on family separation seems less clear.

The chief director of the Hong Kong Hospital Authority, Dr Lau Ka-hin, said on Tuesday officials would “do their best” to treat parents and children who tested positive at the same hospital.

Ava’s father, Nick, said they were living “a real nightmare”.

“If she’s in stable condition, why can’t we just take her home?” he said.

Laura added; “We are not asking for a spare bed at the hospital. I will be standing next to her bed. I will be sitting in a chair next to her for the remaining five days. I just need to be with she.”

Laura comforts Ava on a video call.

A hospital authority spokesperson told CNN that since they did not test positive, Ava’s parents were “not advised” to remain in the hospital’s isolation facilities. .

If it is confirmed in due course that they have Covid-19, “the hospital will try to facilitate and arrange for them to remain on the same ward if the situation permits,” the spokesperson said. .

The spokesperson added that when Ava was in respiratory distress, her parents were not allowed to visit her as she was receiving individual care in the intensive care unit.

“The hospital understands the stress parents have of not being able to accompany their child, so (a) video call would be arranged up to three times a day,” the spokesperson said.

According to Odile Thiang, clinical adviser for the mental health NGO Mind HK, family separation “is incredibly trying for the parents and the child”.

“In both cases there are experiences of anxiety, depression and of course PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder),” Thiang said. “And those impacts are felt long after the actual traumatic event.”

For Laura, it’s more than her own family’s ordeal.

“The worry is that you have to make an agonizing choice between taking your child to get the medical care they need or keeping them at home so they don’t get separated,” she said.

“And that’s the situation that so many parents are going to find themselves in in Hong Kong. It’s going to have a devastating impact. And no parent should have to make that choice.”


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