Due to the fifth wave of Covid-19 in Hong Kong, fuelled by the spread of the Omicron variant in the community, the government has sent several close contacts of confirmed local cases into quarantine. This has raised concerns among the city’s residents about what will happen to them if they either test positive for the virus or are deemed close contacts of a confirmed Covid-19 patient.
What happens if you test positive for Covid-19?
The following is true for people with no recent overseas travel history and incoming travellers who test positive upon arrival. The Department of Health (DH) arranges to have confirmed patients admitted to a public hospital, where they undergo treatment for the virus. There are three dedicated facilities in Hong Kong for Covid-19 patients: The North Lantau Hospital Hong Kong Infection Control Centre (HKICC), Princess Margaret Hospital Infectious Disease Centre, and the recently reopened community treatment facility at AsiaWorld-Expo. There are up to 1,000 more beds in public hospitals also available.
Children under 18 who test positive can have their one parent accompany them in the hospital, even if the guardian tests negative for the virus. However, this arrangement is subject to approval from the Centre for Health Protection and the DH, as well as the availability of isolation facilities. This policy also allows non-positive children whose parents are diagnosed with Covid-19 to get “proper parental care”.
When can you get discharged after testing positive for Covid-19?
The discharge criteria vary, depending on whether patients are symptomatic or asymptomatic. To qualify for a discharge, symptomatic patients must not have had a fever for three days and must have improved respiratory symptoms and lung X-rays. Both symptomatic and asymptomatic patients must produce two negative PCR test results at least 24 hours apart, and 10 days will need to have passed since the onset of the illness for them to be discharged.
Covid-recovered patients must then spend an additional 14 days under isolation. Patients who contracted the virus locally can complete this isolation at home; there are also certain hotels accepting “home quarantiners”. Travellers who have been discharged from the hospital within the period of the quarantine order they received when they arrived in Hong Kong must complete their post-discharge isolation in their designated quarantine hotel.
What happens if you’re a close contact of a local case?
Close contacts of confirmed local cases are sent to government quarantine centres for a maximum of 21 days. The duration of the quarantine period mainly depends on which strain was detected in the confirmed case.
Local case of Omicron variant
Close contacts of confirmed local cases with the Omicron variant are sent to one of five quarantine venues – Penny’s Bay, Silka Tsuen Wan, Cosmo Wan Chai, Dorsett Kwun Tong or Lei Yue Mun Park and Holiday Village – where they will be tested and monitored for symptoms of the virus. The list will expand to include Silka Seaview Hotel, starting January 17. Two more venues – Junior Police Call Permanent Activity Centre in Pat Heung and the Sai Kung Outdoor Recreation Centre – will also be reactivated.
According to a government announcement on January 10, close contacts of confirmed local cases now have to isolate at these centres for 14 days instead of 21 days, followed by seven days of self-monitoring and mandatory testing on the 19th day. This measure is being implemented due to the “relatively short incubation period for infection with the Omicron mutant strain,” which is the strain predominantly showing up in the community since the first cluster of local Omicron infections was detected on December 31.
Local case of other mutant strains
Close contacts of local cases with the N501Y strain (found in the Beta and Gamma variants) or the L452R strain (found in the Delta variant) are placed under government quarantine for 21 days after their last exposure to the confirmed case. They can have this period shortened to 14 days if they have completed a full Covid-19 vaccination course, can produce three negative PCR test results within 12 days of their last exposure to the local case, and test positive for antibodies. They must also get tested for the virus on Day 19 at a community testing centre (CTC).
Local case of non-mutant strain
Close contacts of patients who have contracted a non-mutant strain are sent to a government quarantine centre for 14 days. They could have this period reduced to seven days, provided they have completed a full Covid-19 vaccination course, test negative for Covid-19 within the first two days of their admission into quarantine, and test positive for antibodies. Then, they must undergo a seven-day period of self-monitoring and get tested for the virus on Day 12 at a CTC.
What happens if you’re a close contact of an imported case?
Close contacts of confirmed imported cases must spend 21 days at a government quarantine centre and are tested regularly for the virus during their time there, as in the case of the Moon Palace cluster that originated with a confirmed imported case.
However, quarantine periods for those deemed close contacts of close contacts can be as short as three days. This was seen when 120 students from a school in Discovery Bay were sent to Penny’s Bay for three days after two students and a teacher were identified as close contacts of a confirmed imported case. Each child was allowed to serve their quarantine period with a caretaker, under the government’s family quarantine arrangements.
Header image credits: China News Service, CC BY 3.0