Face Off: Should Hong Kong shorten the required quarantine period length?

Calissa PoonThaddeus Yiu
  • Each week, two of our readers debate a hot topic in a showdown that does not necessarily reflect their personal viewpoint
  • This week, they discuss whether the city should rethink how long travellers are made to quarantine
Calissa PoonThaddeus Yiu |

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Hong Kong currently has one of the longest quarantine periods in the world, clocking in at three weeks. Photo: Shutterstock

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For: Calissa Poon, 10, Diocesan Girls’ Junior School

The Covid-19 pandemic has prompted governments around the world to implement mandatory quarantine for travellers to prevent the spread of the virus.

However, the quarantine policy varies among different countries. Hong Kong has adopted a stringent quarantine period of 21 days in designated hotels for visitors from most countries.

Hong Kong’s quarantine requirements are one of the toughest in the world.

The World Health Organization recommends a 14-day quarantine because nearly all cases develop symptoms within that period.

What we know about the Omicron variant so far

Professor Ben Cowling, an infectious disease expert at the University of Hong Kong, said that a 21-day quarantine is unnecessarily long. It shouldn’t be more than 14 days, he added.

A long quarantine also damages one’s mental health.

A new academic paper lays out the challenges to mental health, and details how some people experience post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and insomnia long after the quarantine ends.

Also, the quarantine exemption granted to certain groups of people does not make sense. In fact, some coronavirus outbreaks in Hong Kong appeared to have originated from exempted groups such as aircrew rather than people who were quarantined.

Hong Kong’s quarantine has overall discouraged visitors to the city. Photo: SCMP/ Dickson Lee

Hong Kong is known as “Asia’s world city”, yet it is now one of the region’s most isolated cities.

Rival business hubs such as Singapore and Tokyo have started to open up, adopting new policies to coexist with Covid-19 and scrapping quarantine for vaccinated travellers.

As an international financial hub, Hong Kong must open its borders for its economy to thrive. Quarantine is needed to prevent community outbreaks of Covid-19 but it should be based on science.

If the Hong Kong government insists to maintaining its “zero-Covid” strategy, it should at least consider shortening the quarantine period.

The World Health Organization wants to start prepping for the next pandemic

Against: Thaddeus Yiu, 12, CCC Heep Woh College

Before the pandemic, Hongkongers were among the most well-travelled people on Earth, while millions of tourists visited the city every year. I would love to see Hong Kong opening up to the outside world once again, but for that to happen, we need to shorten the quarantine period. I don’t see that happening soon because it would be too risky, especially with the recent emergence of the highly infectious Omicron variant.

If we open our borders now, silent carriers could be everywhere in the community!

We have heard about people testing positive for Covid-19 even after their three-week isolation period.

The teens who created a game to help people survive quarantine

Some of the visitors who test positive for the coronavirus show no symptoms. If Hong Kong had a shorter quarantine period, they could spread the disease among their friends and relatives. And within a few days, hundreds could be infected.

There is no doubt that a shorter quarantine would encourage tourists to come to Hong Kong, but it might cause a community outbreak.

We don’t want restrictions like those imposed by many Western nations, do we?

One might argue that it is difficult for people to comply with the tough quarantine rules.

We can’t expect everyone to take precautions when they travel. Photo: EPA-EFE

A good example is the three Cathay Pacific cargo pilots who were infected with Covid-19 after they breached internal guidelines during their overseas stay.

We all want freedom but we should learn to sacrifice a bit during a pandemic.

I think it is important for all of us to get vaccinated. Without proper protection, it may not be possible to stop the pandemic.

Omicron variant likely not more severe than Delta, Fauci says

The 21-day quarantine will dishearten travellers but will do local people more good than harm.

Hong Kong is also negotiating open borders with the mainland, while trying to increase the flagging Covid-19 inoculation rate among the city’s elderly.

It would be better to continue to assess the risks and a “basket of important factors” before changing the quarantine requirements.

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