Hong Kong’s leader, Carrie Lam, has responded to concerns that young children are being separated from their parents in quarantine centres as the city seeks to control its latest Covid-19 outbreak.
More than 120 cases have been recorded so far in a cluster linked to a high-end Hong Kong gym popular with the expat and finance community. It has prompted the temporary closure of the US consulate, sudden lockdowns of residential buildings for mass testing, and hundreds have been quarantined, giving rise to allegations of alarming family separations.
Under Hong Kong’s quarantine rules, which are among the strictest in the world and have been in place since last year, any positive case is sent to hospital for isolation and all close contacts are quarantined in a government facility for two weeks, including children. Subject to case-by-case assessment, caretakers might be arranged by the family to accompany those with special needs, such as infants, the government said.
At a regular briefing on Tuesday, Lam said the government had “no policy to deliberately separate children from their parents”, but that public health concerns had to be respected.
“Where the close contacts are young children of the parents … we will exceptionally allow the admission of the children into hospital as well, where there will be appropriate arrangements,” she said.
But Shahana Hoque-Ali, who moderates the Hong Kong Quarantine support group on Facebook, said it had assisted in more than 100 cases of children who had faced separation from their parents over the past year, including dozens in the past week.
“It’s crazy,” said one mother, who claimed she had to abruptly stop breastfeeding following separation from her seven-month-old son last week after she was diagnosed with Covid-19. “I got fever last night because I have gone from breastfeeding to 100% pumping,” said the woman, who asked not to be identified.
Others have described quarantine centres without facilities such as refrigeration or baby amenities.
At least 750 people have been sent to quarantine facilities in the latest outbreak, including 118 children as of Monday, the South China Morning Post reported. Eight babies and parents who attended a childcare group last week with one of the parents who later tested positive were also quarantined in a government facility.
The US consulate said it was aware that many US citizens in Hong Kong were “concerned about local government testing, quarantine, and hospitalisation procedures, particularly in regard to the possible separation of children from their parents”. It said it was “actively addressing” the concerns, “at the highest level of the Hong Kong government”.
A petition calling for young people to be allowed to isolate at home has received around 5,000 signatures, but has also prompted concern about different rules or exemptions for some groups based on nationality.
Lam confirmed the children of a US couple – who both worked in the consulate and who tested positive – had been allowed to stay in hospital isolation with them, but denied there was “special treatment”, saying it was in line with the arrangements for exceptional circumstances.