HONG KONG – The Hong Kong government revealed on Tuesday that it would soon set up hotlines for the public to report violations of home-quarantine orders, after an increasing number of people breached official instructions on mandatory isolation.
Talking to reporters on Tuesday, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said breaching the 14-day mandatory quarantine order was “very irresponsible” and would put society at greater risk. The CE said she was disappointed and upset by such behavior.
The maximum penalty for violating the quarantine order is six months’ imprisonment and a fine of HK$25,000. “Is it worth getting a criminal record for going out once?” Lam asked.
The government has gradually tightened up quarantine measures for new arrivals since Feb 8. So far, the government has issued about 100,000 quarantine orders, about 71,898 to those from the Chinese mainland, and about 28,805 to those from overseas, the Department of Health’s Communicable Disease Branch head, Chuang Shuk-kwan, told reporters on Tuesday.
The government has also issued 408 warning letters to those breaching the orders, she added.
Police have found at least 41 breaches since the government ordered all arrivals from overseas to undergo a 14-day home quarantine on Thursday, according to a government statement on Sunday.
Five of them were sent to quarantine centers and the other 36 were put on the wanted list, the statement said.
On Monday evening, at least three people were sent to quarantine centers by police after being found to have violated home quarantine orders.
Among them was a 13-year-old girl wearing an electronic tracker wristband. She was found having a meal at a restaurant in Sha Tin.
The girl was believed to have taken a taxi from the airport to a hotel in Sha Tin. But she dined at a restaurant with a man before checking into the hotel.
Police located the girl at the hotel of Courtyard by Marriott Hong Kong Sha Tin. She was then taken to the Chun Yeung Estate in Fo Tan for quarantine on suspicion of violating the quarantine order.
Police received another report on Tuesday that a man wearing home quarantine wristbands was dining with friends in Tsuen Wan. The man was found to have a fever and was taken to hospital.
Leung Chi-chiu, chairman of the Advisory Committee on Communicable Diseases at the Hong Kong Medical Association, said the report hotlines could strengthen community surveillance of quarantined people.
They can strengthen community monitoring on those under quarantine, especially young students returning from Western countries who may let their guard down back at home, Leung said. The move could allow other Department of Health hotlines to be used for more urgent needs, he added.
He warned of the possible consequences of the violations. “Hong Kong will have to pay much more if these people eventually lead to more cluster infections in the community when medical resources are running out.”
To prevent this, he suggested the government strictly enforce laws against any breaches. He also urged the public to exercise self-discipline so as not to squander the city’s previous gains in controlling the virus.
Law professor Willy Fu Kin-chi, vice-chairman of the Hong Kong Legal Exchange Foundation, also said the authorities should strengthen law enforcement against such acts – such as accelerating prosecutions or imposing more deterrent punishments.
He suggested every quarantined resident be equipped with a GPS-enabled wristband, as a third of the current tracking wristbands reportedly failed to be activated. He said parents and guardians should keep an eye on children under home quarantine and report any developments to the relevant departments if necessary.