HONG KONG — Before boarding her flight to Hong Kong for a brand new job final month, Tanja Cunz made positive she had met all the authorities’s stringent entry necessities. Ms. Cunz, a 34-year-old museum curator from Switzerland, took a coronavirus take a look at, paid for 2 weeks of quarantine at a government-designated resort and steeled herself for half a month with out recent air.
But as her airplane touched down in Hong Kong on Christmas morning, an announcement came to visit the loudspeaker: The authorities in a single day had prolonged the quarantine interval from two weeks to 3, efficient instantly. The passengers must safe a 3rd week at their resort earlier than they might depart the airport.
Ms. Cunz was surprised. Not solely would she must pay for an additional week of quarantine, however she would additionally must postpone her begin date at work by one week, that means a lack of wage too.
“All your plans, they just fall apart,” Ms. Cunz mentioned in a telephone name from her resort room, from which she will see her future workplace throughout Victoria Harbor.
Travelers wealthy and poor, lodges and airways alike have scrambled to regulate since Hong Kong abruptly launched its three-week quarantine coverage. At a time when world journey has been disrupted in myriad methods, Hong Kong’s coverage stands out for its size and the confusion it has unleashed.
Some vacationers who had already booked two-week resort slots mentioned that they had tried to safe an extension, solely to have the complete reservation canceled. Others have tried to scrap their journeys, then found that their resort reservations couldn’t be refunded.
Some home employees, the largely low-income ladies from the Philippines and Indonesia who make up about 5 p.c of Hong Kong’s inhabitants, could also be out of labor indefinitely as a result of their employers don’t wish to pay for a 21-night keep.
The authorities has acknowledged the chaos, asserting final week that it was “very concerned” by studies of worth gouging by lodges. Still, it has defended the coverage as crucial to forestall the unfold of a extremely contagious variant of the virus. Hong Kong has largely managed to keep away from the sort of mass outbreaks which have crippled a lot of the remainder of the world, aided partially by its strict quarantine routine.
Global vacationers nowadays face a patchwork of guidelines wherever they go — a patchwork that has been scrambled additional by governments’ race to attempt to preserve out the brand new variant. Mainland China requires two weeks of quarantine at a government-designated facility after which a variable variety of days of home confinement afterward. The United States and a few European international locations, alternatively, not too long ago lowered the really useful quarantine time from 14 days to 10.
Some scientists have questioned the Hong Kong extension as a result of the virus is extensively thought of to have a 14-day incubation interval. Studies have estimated that between 1 and 10 p.c of coronavirus sufferers could have incubation intervals longer than that. The Hong Kong authorities acknowledged that such instances had been “very exceptional” however mentioned the precautions had been crucial.
Hannah Clapham, a public health professor on the National University of Singapore, mentioned that whereas a three-week quarantine would “perhaps slightly reduce the number of infectious individuals entering a population,” the federal government ought to weigh that small potential achieve in opposition to the coverage’s steep worth.
The 21-day rule was “just to play it safe,” mentioned Jin Dongyan, a molecular virologist on the University of Hong Kong. Still, he added, “I think they’re doing too much.”
While Ms. Cunz was caught unprepared, these with extra time to rethink their plans have discovered issues of their very own.
Peter Lam, a logistics business worker in Ireland, determined to cancel his return to Hong Kong to go to household. He couldn’t afford an additional week. He additionally fearful that the federal government would out of the blue require a full month, the whole thing of his deliberate journey.
But when he contacted his resort, it instructed him the reservation was nonrefundable. Mr. Lam, 33, filed a grievance with Hong Kong’s Consumer Council, the Hong Kong Tourism Board and his bank card firm. After three days, the resort mentioned it will do Mr. Lam a particular favor and provides him a refund, he mentioned.
Others have had the alternative drawback. Edwin Edwin, a advisor who was returning to Hong Kong after visiting household within the Netherlands, requested his quarantine resort if he may reserve seven extra days. A couple of hours later, he obtained an electronic mail: The resort was full for that third week, so his whole reservation had been canceled.
He spent half a day desperately contacting different lodges. The just one he may discover was twice the value.
In the top, Mr. Edwin traveled to Taiwan, the place he’s additionally a resident, and is quarantining there for 2 weeks as required. He will ultimately return to Hong Kong from there. Arrivals from Taiwan are allowed to quarantine at home.
“The total trip was supposed to be a month, including quarantine,” he mentioned. “Adding this all up, of course, it’s going to be a lot longer.”
Others haven’t any alternative. The coverage has taken a toll on overseas home employees, who reside and work of their employers’ properties, performing duties corresponding to cleansing and baby care.
Such employees already endure low wages and discrimination, however the quarantine guidelines have exacerbated a few of these points, in keeping with Jec Sernande, the secretary of the Hong Kong Federation of Asian Domestic Workers Unions.
One employee was requested by her employer to not return to the Philippines this yr, Ms. Sernande mentioned, to keep away from paying for her quarantine after she returned. (The authorities started requiring employers to pay for quarantine for home employees final month.) Others are caught within the Philippines with out pay as a result of their employers have postponed their contract begin dates till the quarantine necessities in Hong Kong ease.
“She doesn’t have any work in the Philippines,” Ms. Sernande mentioned of a type of employees. “She’s just waiting.”
Even for the resort business, the coverage has introduced complications. Arrivals at Hong Kong’s airport have plummeted from a mean of 1,300 every day in November to a couple hundred most days since Christmas. Occupancy charges for a lot of lodges hover round 30 to 40 p.c, in keeping with Yiu Si-Wing, a lawmaker who represents the tourism sector.
Some of the federal government’s 36 designated quarantine lodges have inquired about withdrawing from this system, Mr. Yiu mentioned. Hotels that obtain friends for quarantine can not take different friends, corresponding to long-term residents or Hong Kongers on the lookout for a staycation.
Cheaper lodges have stuffed up rapidly, however lodges that cost $65 or extra an evening have struggled, Mr. Yiu mentioned. The authorities has promised to pay lodges a subsidy if they don’t attain 50 p.c occupancy. That will most likely apply to a majority of lodges above that worth threshold, Mr. Yiu mentioned.
Still, regardless of their complaints, no lodges have truly moved to depart this system, Mr. Yiu mentioned.
“From an income perspective, they can’t not do it,” he mentioned.
The uniqueness of Hong Kong’s coverage is evident to Louen Tang, a 38-year-old Hong Kong resident. Mr. Tang’s work within the logistics business has required journey even through the pandemic. He has quarantined thrice already.
Even so, he was unprepared to scramble for an additional week at an reasonably priced resort, as he needed to after his return from London final month. But not one of the lodges in his worth vary had availability. Desperate, Mr. Tang set hourly reminders to name a authorities hotline, till ultimately an official instructed him he may end his quarantine at a recreation facility close to a rustic park that has been transformed right into a quarantine middle.
“I travel a lot. I understand how different countries handle these regulations,” Mr. Tang mentioned. “There’s nothing like Hong Kong.”