This is a report from one of our clients, a Hong Kong permanent resident. After a family holiday abroad and upon her return to Hong Kong, after spending hours and hours on late-night phone calls with various government departments, being threatened with 6 months jail and a HKD 75’000 (EUR 9,600) fine, she and her two young twins went through the following nightmare at Penny's Bay, despite being promised a room at Novotel by the CHP, and being told that families with young children are prioritised to stay at quarantine hotels instead of Penny's Bay.
For confidentiality reasons, the author asked to remain unnamed and the opinions expressed do not necessarily represent those of our firm.
A beautiful beach in Phuket, Thailand.
We are a family permanently residing in Hong Kong. In July 2022, we travelled to Phuket, Thailand, for a family holiday with my two six-year-old twins. I am fully vaccinated and we tested negative on our pre flight PCR tests, so we continued our journey back to Hong Kong as planned. Upon arrival at the Hong Kong airport, we were instructed to complete another RAT test in addition to another PCR test, which is required by the government. Our RAT results were instant negatives, so we made our way to the quarantine hotel where our 7-day quarantine journey awaited us, while simultaneously awaiting our PCR results for the next day.
View of the quarantine hotel's hallway.
The next morning, I received a call from the hotel reception and, to our shock and surprise, were informed that my PCR test came back positive, whilst my two children had tested negative. At the same time, I started showing symptoms - such as fever, headache, body ache, sore throat etc.
‘’Sorry, this is a government policy."
Soon after, I received a call from the CHP (Centre of Health Protection), an agency under the Department of Health in Hong Kong responsible for disease prevention and control, confirming my positive PCR result and advising us that I will be sent to another quarantine isolation facility, the dreaded Penny's Bay Quarantine Centre on Lantau Island.
I explained to the officer on the phone that I was with two six-year-old children and, out of concern for the wellbeing of my young children, made the following requests:
My children must not be separated from me, as was previously promised to me.
I asked to stay in my current quarantine hotel, which was immediately rejected. I asked why 'close contacts', e.g. my children, who tested negative are also being sent to Penny's Bay and he simply replied: ‘’Sorry, this is a government policy."
I informed the operator that our apartment is more than suitable for home isolation, because I was aware that the government had just introduced home-quarantine wrist bands, and requested this option. However, this was declined as I was an ‘inbound’ case, whereas home quarantine is only eligible for ‘local’ cases and he again repeated: “Sorry, this is a government policy.”
As a last resort, I requested to be sent to a quarantine hotel (i.e.: Novotel, Ibis etc.), instead of a quarantine facility (i.e.: Penny's Bay). The operator promised me that families with young children are always prioritised to stay at hotels and not Penny's Bay. He further explained that there are available rooms in their system for Novotel and stated he would book it for me. He advised me to take some rest and that he will arrange the transport and call me once they have a confirmed pick-up time. At that stage, I was relieved to hear a hotel can be arranged, so I thanked him without inquiring further.
The next day, both my children also started falling ill - fever, vomiting, stomach-ache and a lot of crying. I performed RAT tests on them, and got one positive and the other still negative, despite the symptoms.
The Penny's Bay nightmare begins: despite being promised we can stay at Novotel
On that same evening, at approximately 10pm, we had fallen into a deep sleep after consuming our medicine but were awoken by a call from the hotel reception. They said the CHP bus is arriving now which would be taking us to Penny's Bay. I was shocked and in disbelief, given that the officer from the CHP assured us that we could go to Novotel, and explained, that it was also very unreasonable to pack up our suitcases in the middle of the night, especially with two sick kids.
They said the CHP bus is arriving now which would be taking us to Penny's Bay. I was shocked and in disbelief, given that the officer from the CHP assured us that we could go to Novotel, and explained, that it was also very unreasonable to pack up our suitcases in the middle of the night, especially with two sick kids.
The hotel receptionist was at least somewhat understanding and informed the bus driver of our absence whilst we continued to rest in the room. I immediately called the CHP hotline, where I had to wait yet again more than one hour until I was connected to an operator. By the time I got a hold of an officer on duty, it was past midnight. I explained my case to her, reminding her of her colleague's promise of sending us to Novotel, a quarantine hotel.
She said there were no such records in their system and asked if I could tell her the name of the officer who made the promise. Unfortunately, I was too exhausted at the time and did not think of asking for the officer's name in my previous conversation and recording the call. Fearing the worst for my young children, I asked if she can submit a new request to get priority to a hotel, but she informed me that this is managed by the fire department, which she has no control over. I hung up, followed her instructions and called the fire department, which took another hour to connect.
The bedding situation inside Penny's Bay.
The CHP referred us to the fire department who referred us back to the CHP
Finally, someone answered and I had to explain my case again, and the operator told me that the fire department does not assign hotels and that they simply take orders to drive patients from point A to point B. I spent another hour connecting with the CHP, yet again. This time, another officer picked up and I explained my situation for the third time, and they made it clear that there would be no other option than taking the next bus to Penny's Bay.
Being threatened with 6 months jail and a HKD 75’000 (EUR 9,600) fine
The officer informed me that if I were not to follow their orders and board the bus, I would be disobeying a government order and subject to a HKD 25’000 fine per person including possible jail time for up to 6 months. Essentially, this would amount to HKD 75’000 for my twins and me. I was speechless, angry, helpless and exhausted. I could not think straight anymore and so I made my last request, which was for a day bus, so my children would not have to deal with the late-night logistics.
Arrival at Penny's Bay.
The next day at approximately 2pm, we received the call that the bus for Penny's Bay had arrived and we were off.
A meal for three people, received at Penny's Bay.
However, this was just the beginning of our worsening nightmare. Upon arrival, the staff believed there would be three unrelated individuals coming in, leading them to booking three separate rooms. Once I explained to them that we are a family with two young children, they realised the mistake.
Military style beds without bedding, no towels, no medicine and begging for food
We then stood outside of the reception for a half an hour in the heat, until they were able to find us a family room. The room consisted of two small units, split with a sliding door in the middle. There were four wooden beds (so delicate, I could lift it with three fingers); two thin blankets, two pillows, and two mattresses which were thinner than 3cm.
The size of our mattress at Penny's Bay.
For amenities, there was a kettle, three RAT kits, two toiletry bags with sample sized toothpaste, two coffee sachets, two toilet paper rolls, a TV in each room that offered local channels only and nothing else. No food, no snacks, no water, no bath towels, and not enough beddings for the three of us. I tried to use the WhatsApp hotline and forwarded my requests - but it was all autonomised, no live agent. Having received no response, I called the Penny's Bay hotline and after an hour had passed, I finally got through. I requested more bedding and bath towels which they said would be prioritised, but they kept us waiting. My children were exhausted and tried to sleep and I made my bed with my own t-shirts and clothes.
The shared bathroom during our quarantine stay.
The next day and many calls and WhatsApp messages later, they eventually delivered the requested bedding to us. However, we still had no bath towels, so we were unable to shower. I spoke to approximately five different members of staff and they all told me the same thing: ‘’We ran out of stock.’’ One of them even suggested that I use my dirty clothes to dry myself. Finally, one of the kinder staff members delivered three small kitchen towels to us which was what we had to utilise for the rest of our stay.
When I called to check what was going on, they said the camp had exceeded its capacity and that they are running out of food, unable to help me.
On day 2, we received a call from the Penny's Bay doctor asking about my children’s health condition. Luckily, my children were not excessively sick, but they were still suffering from symptoms. I proceeded to request for child medicine to relieve nasal congestion, chesty cough and general pain relief. We were promised a same day delivery, which - you already guessed it - never arrived.
Another meal to share for three people.
In terms of food, it was bland, dry and flavourless. On day 3, they delivered only one meal for the three of us. When I called to check what was going on, they said the camp had exceeded its capacity and that they are running out of food, unable to help me.
View of Penny's Bay's Quarantine Centre at night.
How can Hong Kong, one of the richest cities in the world, treat young children like this?
Despite going through a truly horrible week, I was mostly able to keep my cool. Yet when I heard this, it was the last straw. How can Hong Kong, one of the richest cities in the world, treat young children like this? Forcing us into a camp, not providing us with the most essential items and sufficient food, leaving us waiting hours and hours on various hotlines, threatening us with jail after breaking their promises and avoiding to take responsibility? At this point, I felt blatantly humiliated and dehumanised. I opened my window and began begging for food with every delivery staff that crossed my sight.
Finally, a kind lady said she was able to find plain congee and three small milk cartons for my children and I was able to give them some food for the rest of the day. This process continued for the next two days until they began replenishing food supplies.
Hours on government hotlines, more broken promises and a delayed departure
The rule to exit is to have consecutive negative RAT tests on day 6 and day 7. Luckily, we were receiving negative results well before day 6, which gave me the confidence that we would be able to depart according to schedule. On day 6, I received a call from the Penny's Bay staff, stating that I would only be allowed to leave the next day if my RAT results were negative. He told me to start packing up as they only had one bus a day that left the camp. Day 7 had finally dawned and we were more than ready to depart. I started calling the Penny's Bay staff at 8am to remind them of our exit. They informed me it was too early and that I should call them again at 9am. I obliged and called back an hour later, just to hear that they are still ‘’working on it’’. At 10am I was still in in the dark and called again, fearing I would miss the bus, and indeed, they told me the bus had left.
I was ripping my hair off at this point and demanded to know where the communication went wrong. The staff checked their system and informed us, that we were scheduled to leave the next day, as one of my children had a received a positive RAT test in the hotel. Given the RAT calculation method which differs to the PCR tests, where day 1 is referred to as day 0, meant that my child’s day 7 was actually the following day. They further explained, that although I was ready to be released, she was a minor who needed to be accompanied by a parent, which meant we had to stay an extra day. At last, the following morning we had awoken to our final hours at Penny's Bay and were able to the leave the camp and return home.
In reference to these unfortunate events, we would like to highlight the following take away points, when considering traveling to Hong Kong:
If you plan to travel to Hong Kong for business or as a tourist, think twice;
If you are a Hong Kong resident and consider travelling abroad, also think twice;
Try your very best to avoid being sent to Penny's Bay;
Keep a record of all conversations with government and Penny's Bay staff (voice recording is recommended);
Record the time and the name of all staff when talking to any government staff;
Bring medicine with you and don't expect it from the Penny's Bay doctors;
If you have a medical condition, get a doctor's report and apply for quarantine from home;
If you are sent to Penny's Bay, call your mobile phone carrier, because most of the time, they will provide you with unlimited Wi-Fi;
Stay up to date with Hong Kong's COVID policies, as they change frequently;
Don’t be afraid of calling a lawyer and ask for professional help if you are caught up in a similar situation as our client.
Disclaimer: We do not necessarily share the views of opinion writers or guest authors, which present a diversity of views and may aim to suggest ideas or alterations via legal means without an intention of hatred, discontent or hostility against the authorities or other communities.