Jabbed, 'jailed' and furious

Top News | Wallis Wang 4 May 2021

A Caribbean Coast resident vented his frustration and anger at the government quarantining him for 21 days - even though he is fully vaccinated.

He condemned the arrangement as unhelpful in boosting the city's vaccination rates, as there is no difference between those who received the jab and those who did not.

This came after a domestic helper and a 10-month-old baby of her employer living in the Tung Chung estate tested positive for the more infectious mutant Covid-19 strain last week. A total of 1,027 residents from the same block were quarantined, starting last Friday.

The expat, who is a permanent Hong Kong resident and a pilot, told The Standard that he and his wife had taken the two doses of German-made BioNTech vaccines. More than 14 days have passed since the couple got the second jab.

However, the couple were still sent to the Penny's Bay quarantine center on April 30 with their two kids aged five and seven.

"Why are we here in the first place? We are negative with two tests and we did the right thing to get vaccinated," he said.

"If we fully vaccinated people with two negative tests are sent for 21 days quarantine, why would anyone who is unsure about getting the vaccination even bother getting it? This is a failure of the system!"

The pilot said the quarantine has disrupted the family's plan to leave Hong Kong. He has been on no-pay leave and hasn't received a salary since December.

"We were planning to leave Hong Kong due to the high cost of living here," he said. "We were departing in a few weeks but now I need to cancel the trip."

He added that the family's flat at the Caribbean Coast was put on sale last week, but now they could not have people view it for 21 days.

The quarantine arrangement at Penny's Bay was also chaotic, with staff forgetting he is staying with his wife and two kids and providing them with food for only two people.

"We were assured at first we would remain together, but after arriving, we were told we would be separated into two different rooms and there would be no contact allowed for 21 days," he said.

He said the family insisted on staying together because the kids would get anxious if the family separated, and they were put in a small room with two very small beds.

No extra mattress was provided and the family received meals for only two people on the first two days.

The whole family got only a bottle of water and no food when they first got there on April 30. There was no daily necessities in the room, such as towels, soap, and shampoo.

Although quarantined residents were given a WhatsApp number and a phone number to contact staff at the Penny's Bay center, they never got any response.

The pilot said the government should have locked down the building and demanded they stay inside.

"Instead, they put hundreds of us all together to get tested, side by side, and crammed hundreds of us into a bus. We were in the bus for hours, and now we are at a dirty quarantine center," he said.

In response, the Department of Health said medical experts have discussed whether vaccinated people should be quarantined on April 22 and decided that they could not be exempted from the quarantine order because there is not enough data about the new Covid-19 variant.

A department spokesman also said sending all residents living in the same building to the quarantine center was essential to stop the potential risk of virus spreading because the residents who have been tested negative might still be in the incubation period.

Infectious disease expert Leung Chi-chiu agreed with the government, saying the measure ensures the more infectious mutant Covid-19 strain won't spread in the community.

Vaccines do not ensure 100 percent protection, he said. "Being vaccinated means the risk of getting infected will be reduced, but it doesn't mean that the person who got the jabs will never be infected," Leung said. "Vaccination is not an excuse for exemption from quarantine. Not a single case can be let go."

He also dismissed the suggestion to let residents stay inside the block, saying the virus could spread via pipes.

By Sunday, 539,800 citizens had been vaccinated with both doses, with 320,100 opting for the Sinovac vaccine and 219,600 getting the BioNTech jab. A total of 952,100 people received the first jab - or about 13 percent of the population.

Previous studies showed the antibody level in those who received the BioNTech jab dropped 90 percent against the South African variant - that found in Tung Chung.

But health experts said the vaccine is still largely effective against the variant as it triggers many antibodies.

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