Note: The article has been written and published with the prior consent of the family. Names have been kept confidential for the family’s privacy.
A family of three who returned to Hong Kong earlier this week has been asked by the Department of Health (DOH) to undergo an additional 14-day quarantine period. Reason: The six-month old daughter tested positive for Covid-19 via her Day 5 stool sample.
The family arrived at the Hong Kong International Airport from overseas, where the parents tested negative for Covid-19. They were then transferred to their designated quarantine hotel (DQH). Their baby was not tested at the time.
According to protocol laid out by the Hong Kong government, it is “not feasible” to collect the respiratory specimens necessary for a PCR test from the nose and throat of children under three years old. Therefore, they are tested for the virus using stool samples while they are under quarantine.
The family submitted the baby’s specimens at their DQH. Her Day 1 stool sample was indeterminate and the Day 5 sample was preliminary positive and later confirmed as positive. The parents tested negative on their Day 1 PCR test at the airport and their Day 5 PCR test and daily rapid antigen tests (RATs) at their DQH.
The infant, meanwhile, “has zero symptoms, is a happy little bunny and the RATs are all negative,” said the mother. However, since the baby is too young to be vaccinated, she has to undergo an additional 14 days of quarantine at an isolation facility and must be accompanied by her parents.
The family is worried that this will be worse for their child. “Our baby is on medication for a hemangioma (benign vascular tumour) on her right eyelid. We have to give her this daily as failure to do so could lead to permanent blindness. We have to stop the medication if she gets sick. By putting us into a hotel full of Covid, poor air ventilation, we risk her getting sick. We just want to take her home where she is safest,” said the mother.
According to guidance for overseas travellers issued by the Hong Kong government, anyone who tests positive for Covid-19 while at their quarantine hotel, has no “obvious symptoms” and does not require medical treatment will be transferred to a community isolation facility hotel. They will only be discharged if they test negative on Days 6 and 7 via RAT after they initially produce a positive result for the virus.
This treatment is now in line with fully vaccinated individuals (anyone who has received two doses of a government-approved Covid-19 vaccination) who have contracted the virus in Hong Kong. It does not apply to unvaccinated arrivals, who have to isolate for 14 days, just like those who test positive in the community.
The mother also stated that, “It has been accepted by the Hong Kong Department of Health that babies can excrete Covid-19 longer but that does not mean they are infectious, it is a case of a positive excretion not a positive test,” said the mother.
In addition, the mother said that neither parent has tested positive for Covid-19, the baby exhibits no symptoms and has negative RAT results. Since this is the case, she wants to know why the family cannot isolate at home instead of at an isolation hotel, given that they meet the criteria for home quarantine.
“Why take us to an isolation facility when the criteria for that is a) showing symptoms and b) an inhabitable home? We have an apartment with two separate rooms, two separate bathrooms,” she said.
Government policy currently states that the criteria of suitable living conditions applies to close contacts of confirmed cases. In addition, patients who were awaiting hospitalisation at home and who were mildly symptomatic or asymptomatic at the peak of the fifth wave could end their isolation period after negative Day 6 and 7 RAT results.
The parents have requested the assistance of the British Consulate, who have spoken to the DOH. However, the family was transferred to their isolation hotel on April 29, after completing their seven-day mandatory quarantine at their DQH. They are now working on getting discharged seven days after their daughter’s Day 5 positive test results, instead of 14.
This is not the first time that Covid-positive children in Hong Kong have been caught up in the government’s anti-pandemic measures. In February 2022, an 11-month-old infant who tested positive for the virus had to be hospitalised alone as there was no space in the ward for even one parent to accompany her.
Update (6 May 2022): On May 2, the family received confirmation from the British Consulate that so long as the family tested negative on Days 6 and 7, they could leave quarantine. The whole family is now resting at home.
Header image credits: nsj-images via Canva