Provided by Michael Iannini, PDAcademia on July 30, 2021.
In preparing for the flight back to Hong Kong from California from our summer visit to my parents, I spent hours of research and contacting different groups trying to figure out what to do and how to do it. Shortly after arriving in our hotel, I was asked by the ACAMIS Executive Director, Tom Ulmet, if I would write a summary of experiences that could be used by teachers or new families as they plan to enter Hong Kong. Seeing the value of something like that that could have saved me much time, I immediately agreed, so here it is.
The consensus of those returning or arriving in Hong Kong is that nothing is easy about this trip, from departure to return. If you must leave Hong Kong or are entering Hong Kong for the first-time make sure to join this Facebook Group: Hong Kong Quarantine Support Group. It is without question the most valuable source of information for people entering Hong Kong. It has over 45000 members and has 100-200 posts per day, so it’s very active. But be warned, the members are very picky about people looking for easy answers, be sure to review all the curated topics to try and find an answer before asking a question.
The next most important source of information is Hong Kong’s government website: https://www.coronavirus.gov.hk/eng/index.html. You will need to review this for up-to-date quarantine policies and a list of quarantine hotels, which is updated monthly. What made my trip especially challenging was the fact that there was a mass of people returning to Hong Kong in June, July and August and hotel availability was extremely limited. I would recommend booking a hotel with a flexible cancellation policy before booking a flight, provided you know the flight availability. Flights will most likely change or be cancelled, government entry policies change monthly, but a booking at a hotel that can accommodate changes without any penalty is invaluable.
The third most important resource for information will be your airline, which is hopefully Cathay Pacific, as they are definitely on top of things. They were very proactive in checking documentation prior to arriving to the airport. Other airlines may not be so accommodating. If you are using a different airline and have a connecting flight, odds are it is Cathay. I noticed this when checking alternative itineraries with Delta and American Airlines.
Lastly, the most reliable medical website in Hong Kong is OT&P’s Blog on COVID: https://www.otandp.com/blog/tag/covid-19
Below is a personal narrative of my daughter’s and my experience which may or may not be entertaining, depending whether or not you sympathize with my OCD. But, in addition to the resources I provided above, this article from the Hong Kong Free Press has the best advice for surviving a 21-day hotel quarantine: https://hongkongfp.com/2021/01/31/hkfp-guide-how-to-survive-and-even-thrive-in-hong-kong-hotel-quarantine/
Booking the hotel
My quarantine story begins with finding the right hotel. I prioritized this over the flight because I knew traveling with an unvaccinated 8-year old we would have to quarantine for 3 weeks. Recent news reports suggest that a quarantine period 21-days will be required for everyone moving to or staying in Hong Kong and flights may be potentially blocked. This can change monthly so be sure to follow the government website above.
So, my hotel search criteria in order of importance was:
- 7-day cancellation policy (Keeping in mind I was booking the hotel well in advance of needing it)
- Government regulations and flight plans are changing constantly and hotels on the Government Approved list are supposed to accommodate these issues, but many of the more budget friendly hotels can be difficult to communicate with.
Space. My preference was a family suite, two room suite or two rooms connecting. I ended up paying extra for two rooms connecting because there were no suites available in any of the hotels I wanted. The two rooms connecting only became available when Hong Kong announced it wouldn’t allow any flights from the UK. Up until that announcement I had a suite booked in a luxury hotel for 10,000 USD. Don’t let budget dictate how much space you have, especially when traveling with kids. Fortunately, the UK travel ban opened up other options that saved me a bundle.
The hotel allows food and package deliveries from outside
The Facebook group had comments rating the hotel food as decent
The hotel has a flexible meal plan, meaning I didn’t have to pay to eat their food. Unfortunately, we got stuck with 3 meals a day, most of which my daughter and I both rate as a 4-5 on a 10-point scale.
7 days prior to departing the U.S., Cathay Pacific sent me a very detailed list of documents I needed to return to Hong Kong, the most important of which was the PCR test and that it required a separate piece of documentation validating that the lab was accredited by the CDC. Most testing centers, like CVS or Walmart, have drive-through testing sites, but they outsource the test to a lab. Not all labs are accredited. Hong Kong will have these requirements for every country, so make sure you know which lab processed your test and research and print the lab’s accreditation status. I opted to cut out the middle-man and paid extra for my daughter and I to be tested directly at an accredited lab. This is the safest option in the end.
Landing in Hong Kong
It took 5.5 hours from the time we landed to the time the government bussed us to our hotel. It took 2 hours from the time we landed until we were able to sit down. Make sure to take water from the plane and use the restroom before proceeding to the COVID test. Pack plenty of snacks, toiletries and a change of clothes, as well.
Upon landing in Hong Kong, we had to scan a QR code to fill in an arrival survey, basically verifying we had all our documents and confirming if we would be trying to qualify for no quarantine, 7, 14 or 21 days. Make sure to look for this QR code when exiting the plane. Many people were caught by surprise and prevented from moving forward, putting them at the back of COVID test line. A slight inconvenience especially considering other flights were arriving. The 5.5 hour window we had probably could have been 4.5 or 5 hours if I was more savvy upon exiting the plane. We were also the first flight of the day to arrive. I can imagine this airport wait could go up to 7 or 8 hours.
Upon verifying our completed survey, we began moving through a very long circuitous route to get to the testing area. They checked our documents, gave us a testing kit and moved us quickly to a cubicle to be tested. That probably took about 45 minutes to an hour after exiting the plane. Then there was about another hour wait to have our arrival documents checked. After the arrival documents were checked we moved to a waiting area to wait for our results. We were given water and a sandwich and could freely go to the restroom, though discouraged from roaming around the waiting area.
Once we got our negative test results, about 2 hours later, we moved to immigration, collected our bags and were directed to an area where we lined up according to the hotel we had booked and waited for a bus.
This is something a lot of people know going into quarantine but struggle to accept:
1. You can’t leave your room.
2. You can’t open the door, with the exception to pick up things, such as food and packages.
3. There is air conditioning but, you can’t open a window
4. There is no housekeeping. You get some cleaning supplies which seem woefully inadequate. We got a bottle of dish washing liquid and a cheap sponge and I was told that should be sufficient to clean everything. There is no vacuum so don’t spill anything on the carpet, otherwise that could stink up the room pretty bad.
5. There is no laundry service. We did get some clothes-washing liquid.
Prior to departing I made sure to pack our bags according to what we needed in quarantine and what could be stored until we returned to our home. Space is at a premium, so the less you need to be shuffling between bags the better.
We have a mini fridge and that is sufficient for storing some left overs. I make sure to recycle as many of the food containers as possible for that purpose.
Deliveroo will be your best friend. You can use this for drinks and snacks from 7-11, groceries from Park n Shop or ordering food from a variety of nearby restaurants. It’s easy to register for and accepts all major credit cards.
Without question, based on everything I have read and everyone I have spoken with, routine is critical for getting through 3-weeks of quarantine. This routine must include exercise, which for us is:
- Yoga mat (our hotel also provided one), 2 x 5kg dumb bells (You can get exercise equipment delivered from Decathalon), resistance bands and a good core and cardio app. If you have an established routine, be prepared to adapt to limited space.
We have a Nintendo switch with an exercise and dance game.
We have some tennis balls for eye-hand coordination games
For my daughter, my wife, being a teacher, but not with us in quarantine, set up a time table that was a good mix of studying, socializing and playing games. My daughter and I operate on an 8-5 schedule where everything during that period is fairly well mapped out. Before 8 and after 5 we have chores, such as making the bed and doing dishes. Strangely, I look forward to these chores to break up my day.
For my daughter's studies, to ensure she is amply preoccupied affording me time to work undistracted, we have a bunch of workbooks for her to work through. We have also hired a tutor on italki to work with her for one hour per day. The tutor is cheap and gives her someone else to interact with, as well as saves me the stress of being the bad guy making her do work.
In terms of socializing, we lined up several friends and family members to call my daughter. I have several work calls and am able to reach out to friends and family on my own, but while I am working if my daughter starts to feel restless (and we do feel restless), those connections to friends and family are invaluable.
We are only 7-days into our 21 days, but I am feeling really optimistic. I remind my daughter of everything we should be thankful for and that this quarantine was a sacrifice made out of love to leave Hong Kong this summer to check on my parents. We aren’t being punished, but this is part of the price for sharing our love. I developed this mindset well in advance of leaving for the US. It has helped me to ensure that everything I communicate with my daughter stays positive and is consistent.
Truth be told, I do lose my patience daily, but that is when I reach deep to remember why we are doing the quarantine…the dumb bells also help.
Please email me if you have any questions that you are afraid to ask in the Facebook Group, I won’t judge you 🤗
Michael Iannini, PDAcademia