Our living nightmare in Penny's Bay

Top News | Jane Cheung 11 May 2021

Quarantined residents described nightmarish times at Penny's Bay quarantine center, which included diarrhea-causing contents of lunch boxes, blocked toilets and freezing air conditioning.

By yesterday, though, after four days isolated at the camp on Lantau, more than 2,300 people from Penny's Bay and some from Lei Yue Mun who had gone into an enforced lockdown after highly contagious mutant Covid-19 variants were found in their home blocks, had been allowed out.

But they have to accept four further tests and monitor their own health until the 21-day mark is reached.

A resident named Lai from Block R in Allway Gardens at Tsuen Wan suffered from diarrhea for three consecutive days.

She had to ask doctors at the isolation camp for medication, Lai said, as authorities "can't even fulfill a basic requirement of giving us food that is clean."

She also told a radio station: "It was a rough time in the quarantine camp. Everything was wrong."

Tsuen Wan district councilor Chiu Yan-loy said at least 30 families reported diarrhea after eating food supplied by Danny Catering Service at Penny's Bay.

"I've also received complaints about slow supply of medication, with some waiting for half a day before they were prescribed drugs," he said. "It was very chaotic."

Another resident, Ng, said she felt like a prisoner in the camp and talked of having "cabbage, red carrots and chicken wings every meal."

She said her husband had five attacks of diarrhea on the first night after eating half of what was in a lunchbox.

"We called the hotline," she said. "They only asked if he had vomited or developed a fever and advised him to drink more water - without providing any medication."

And the air conditioning in Penny's Bay units was "freezing" according to a man named So. He and his wife had to put on all the clothes they had with them and wrap themselves under two blankets before they could sleep.

"The air-con's temperature adjustment was not working," he said. "We tried to turn the temperature up but it became a heater. So we could only switch it off if we were too cold, but it got hot again very soon."

A camp inmate named Lam who went to Penny's Bay from the family home Block N2 of Quarry Bay's Kornhill said he and his wife and their two daughters, two and eight, were first assigned to Block 67 at Penny's Bay, but all the units had blocked toilets.

"We asked to be changed to another room," he said. "We called them at 9am but got no reply until 11.30am. We were only able to move in the afternoon."

Those returning home received a thank you letter signed by Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, but one woman said such was the level of anger at what she and her family faced that she tore the letter into pieces.

A Department of Health spokesman said the meal provider at Penny's Bay and Lei Yue Mun Holiday Camp had been changed from Danny Catering Service to Delicious Chef King Catering.

The spokesman added that said Danny no longer offers meals at any quarantine facility, and authorities would be following up on the complaints.

But a veteran of the catering industry said tight budgets and considerable time spent on the road with prepared food was likely a factor in the problems.

Ray Chui Man-wai, chairman of the Institute of Dining Art, noted there is no food processing facility on Lantau.

Food could have gone bad during long and hot trips from Kwai Chung to Penny's Bay, Chui said.

He also pointed to the government's tendering policy, which is to choose a meal provider who offers the lowest price.

He estimated the tender price for each food box was less than HK$30, and many providers found that too low and were reluctant to join in tendering.

"I'd say it's reasonable for each food box to cost from HK$40 to HK$45 to maintain an acceptable quality," he said.

Former secretary for food and health Ko Wing-man said authorities could do better in quarantine arrangements and suggested referring to the mainland's means of food supplies and logistics.

"But it was reasonable to have taken stringent measures against the mutant strains," he added. "I hope citizens can understand that."

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