Another Hong Kong Quarantine Diary

July 11-18, 2022

Hong Kong continues to impose one of the strictest quarantines in the world for inbound travellers even as much of the world has abandoned the concept of quarantines and are opening up. Compared to my last quarantine, the period has shortened to only 7 days from 14, which was a major consideration in why I decided to fly, booking the summer trip in March and hoping the government won't reverse the decision.

Since I had almost 4 months before departure, securing a quarantine hotel amongst roughly 40 choices was not too difficult. I wanted to try a new and better hotel with a larger budget this time, and I heard the Marriott properties also give points for quarantine stays, so I looked up the Courtyard on the Island side, which offers harbour view rooms for a very reasonable price of HKD$1350 a night, meals included, along with a good cancellation policy. Its 26 square metre size is also fairly spacious. The Four Points Sheraton in Tung Chung was also high on my list, but it was a bit too far from home and I preferred an actual harbour view than a sea view of the airport.

For comparison, similar hotels with sea views in the 7th cycle of designated quarantine hotels were charging :

  • Jen by Shangri-La - $1198
  • Lan Kwai Fong Hotel - $1650
  • Four Points Sheraton Tung Chung - $1350

    Securing a hotel is a major headache in any inbound journey, but getting a room booking is only the start of an anxious lead-up to departure. That is because the government suspends an airline's route if too many passengers test positive upon arrival, even though they may have gotten a negative PCR test for departure. My airline was banned a few times during the short time they resumed flying from Frankfurt, but luckily this suspension mechanism was removed for good just before my flight.

    Other unpredictable events that would impact my return also weighed heavily on my mind. Thankfully, the airline didn't cancel my flight and I didn't catch COVID just before returning back to Hong Kong, so I landed on July 11 as scheduled amidst airport chaos in Europe. After passing my rapid test and retrieving my luggage, I exited into the designated bus check-in area. Unlike my previous trip last November, they swapped the holding pen to the other side of the arrivals hall and set up much larger lines.

    We would then head down the elevators to the limousine boarding area for our small bus. They didn't spray our luggage with disinfectant this time, and it was 5:41pm by the time I settled into my seat. A lot of staff were on hand trying to arrange our large cases at the front of the bus. It would cover several hotels on the Island side, first stopping at the Conrad, then the Landmark Mandarin, and Courtyard was the last stop. Luckily, there was minimal traffic in Central so by the time I entered the hotel lobby, it was 6:51pm.

    Staff can only check in 1 room at a time and after each use, the area is wiped down before the next inmate is invited over. I patiently waited in our socially-distanced holding pen at the entrance. I wasn't in a hurry to enter my prison cell anyway.

    Check-in was efficient and they allocated a high floor room as I had requested earlier by email. By the time I was done, an elevator was ready for me. Welcome back to Hong Kong-style efficiency. The elevator could only be used by one party at a time, similar to checking in.

    My room was at the end of a small corridor on the 23rd floor. I liked the seclusion and I would only have a neighbour on one side, meaning one less chance that someone nearby would be infected during their stay, which might subject the rest of us to daily PCR tests until we leave.

    Having done quarantine once before, I was familiar with the set-up. The top part of the chair outside my door is for clean items, while dirty linen and garbage would go on the floor. My card would only be valid for 1 entry, and if I step out of the room, it would be a violation of the quarantine order and I would be dragged away.

    The room was clean and very spacious. There was a small reception area at the door, which leads to a closet and the bathroom. Surprisingly, they have enough space for a tub but chose to put in a shower only instead. A huge work desk was placed right in front of the big windows which face the harbour. There was even space for a small couch. I knew I would be comfortable here.

    Something new in the hotel room setup compared to my last quarantine is the air purifier, with a sign asking us to keep it on at all times during the stay.

    In the bathroom, there was a reminder to pour water down the drainage hole every week. This is to prevent vertical transmission of viruses from the pipes. There were 2 large towels, 2 hand towels, and 2 face towels. 3 sets of shower gel, shampoo, conditioner, and lotion were placed, as well as 3 rolls of toilet paper and 3 boxes of facial tissue. There were other disposable toiletries, 2 packs of detergent, as well as what looks like a brand new cup. For any supply replacements, there is a QR code to scan to order online.

    I can picture myself enjoying working here with that executive view.

    Reception had reminded me to call 0 to order dinner. Since I was in a premium harbour view room, I could choose my meals from a selection and order by scanning the QR code, which leads to an online form. I could order meals the day before and also specify whether disposable cutlery is needed. There weren't that many choices, and since the same list is used for both lunch and dinner, I can easily exhaust everything by the end of the week. Luckily, the selection changes every week except breakfast.

    What struck me as odd was I was not offered any chopsticks throughout the week.

    Overall, the food was decent, although the soups were a bit disappointing. That was offset by a lot of fruits and vegetables on offer, and the overall diet was healthier than my last quarantine, which had carb-heavy meals but their food tasted better.

    This part of town has a lot of food delivery options, and there were a lot of restaurants available on the apps, some charging only $8 for delivery. Nevertheless, I was happy with the hotel's meals so I didn't need to order in.

    Day 1 - Hainan chicken rice

    My first meal during quarantine would be a decent chicken and rice for dinner.

    I liked the plentiful soups and fruits that go along with every lunch and dinner. They also offer drinks such as beer, soda, and tea bags, in addition to those already stocked in my room. The selection is an improvement from my last quarantine.

    Jet lagged and still on London time, I woke up very early to catch the early day's light on day 2. Visiblity was great! I could see all the way to the Tsing Ma Bridge.

    Day 2 breakfast - dim sum with chicken congee and diced fruits

    Everything tasted normal but the chicken was a bit scarce in the congee.

    All diced fruits that would arrive throughout the week would consist of pineapple, canteloupe, and watermelon. They were all fresh.

    Day 2 lunch - wonton and BBQ pork noodle

    The wontons and noodles were delicious but the pork was a bit on the lean and chewy side. The soup base has been separated into the below deck so the noodles wouldn't soak it all up during delivery. I had accompanied it with the Western soup on the side, a mushroom mix.

    Day 2 dinner - pan-fried snapper with pesto sauce

    I couldn't taste the pesto but the portions were large with plenty of vegetables beneath. As the meals are not too heavy in carbohydrates, I didn't feel bloated due to getting too little exercise to burn off the calories.

    Meanwhile, the harbour view is amazing!

    Day 3 breakfast - museli with bakery basket and diced fruits (with additional grapefruit)

    Day 3 lunch - baked pork chop with mashed potatoes and vegetables

    The pork was a bit on the chewy side but it had a good sauce on top to enhance the flavour.

    Day 3 dinner - chicken curry with steamed rice

    After trying a few Chinese soups, I noticed they weren't too good and sometimes tasted a bit too salty. My last quarantine hotel did a great job with soups although they were only available for dinner while the Courtyard offered it for both lunch and dinner. I guess my expectations had been elevated from last time so I got a bit picky.

    The sky continued to be blue, but it was excessively hot outside. Luckily, air-conditioning doesn't cost extra.

    I had accidentally messed up the online form and put in the wrong date. That's why breakfast didn't arrive on day 4. I rang up customer service and they found I double ordered for the previous day. They fixed it and breakfast arrived an hour later. I was quite satisfied people would answer the phone, as that didn't always happen at my last quarantine hotel. Staff here were courteous and helpful.

    Day 4 lunch - MoMo burger

    I liked how they separated the vegetables and pickles from the burger to prevent it from getting soggy.

    There was a spectacular sunset that day, but since my room faced directly north and there is another room that extends outward next to me, I couldn't see the best part to the west.

    Day 5 lunch - mixed grilled vegetables and roasted potatoes

    I quite enjoyed the good variety of vegetables during the week. It's not just potatoes and the typical trio of frozen vegetables I can get at the supermarket freezer.

    Day 5 dinner - wonton noodle again but paired with salad and not soup

    The garden salad was fresh and contained a good variety of coloured members. The pairing with seasame sauce was also appropriate but I would also be happy to use some balsamic vinegar.

    Day 6 breakfast - scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon, hasbrown, and bread

    The lunch and dinner menu changed for the week that day so I was quite eager to try some new dishes.

    Day 6 lunch - pork dumpling paired with vegetables with clear soup in the below deck (additional soup on the side)

    Day 6 dinner - pan-fried salmon in lemon butter sauce

    They used different greens for this dish compared to the others I had earlier.

    During check-in, I was given a bag of rapid tests, which I am supposed to do on my own every morning, and mark the results on a log sheet in the welcome pack. There was also a thermometer. In addition, authorities send people to the hotel to do a PCR test on me on days 3 and 5. Testing positive during quarantine would have dire consequences. I would be removed from the hotel and sent to a government isolation facility, and have my isolation clock re-set to another 7 days until I test negative again.

    So with my day 3 and 5 PCR tests negative, and my final rapid test also negative, I was delighted to anticipate discharge at 23:59 on day 7, or midnight on day 8. That would mean 6 nights at the hotel. Although we are required to book 7 nights, I decided not to stay for that final night and leave the next morning.

    Day 7 lunch - spaghetti bolognese with another lovely garden salad

    Meanwhile, a warship has anchored offshore today.

    I started packing up during the afternoon. Health authorities have asked hotels to dispose everything in the room after I leave, even after all these negative tests. There is no recycling so I took some effort to wash most of the plastic containers used for my dinners to bring home. Some could not be salvaged though, such as those that contained curry which seemed to have made permanent stains on the plastic. I also packed up the disposable toiletries and paper bags to take with me. None of these should be treated as hazardous medical waste.

    A doorbell startled me as I wasn't expecting any further PCR tests on day 7 unless my neighbour tested positive. I opened the door and found a receipt for my stay. Shortly after, there was a second ring. This time, it was a graduation certificate with a beer to celebrate the end of my stay.

    Day 7 dinner - beef rice

    The huge portion of beef contrasted against the small amount of rice. The beef was delicious with the sauce although it was short on vegetables. The accompanying corn soup tasted right out of the can. I should have picked the garden salad instead.

    As sunset came and evening rolled in, I went back to my welcome pack and checked I have all the documents I need to leave. The quarantine order would still be required for my day 9 and 12 PCR tests that I need to do once I am set free.

    I would first fill in the rapid test results sheet which I need to submit at check-out.

    They called me minutes before midnight to make sure I was ready. At exactly 00:00 on day 8, they rang my door and I was all set to check out and regain my freedom! Check-out needs to be escorted as the elevators need to be turned on to move me and a staff was on hand with a cart to help move my luggage.

    Check-out was a relative breeze. They scanned my quarantine order, took the test sheet, and that was it. The whole stay was prepaid and they asked if I needed help calling a taxi. Staff even helped carry my luggage out to the street and stash it into the taxi's trunk. That's good service!

    Final Thoughts :
    Quarantine is an outdated concept in 2022, especially when there were over 3000 community infections being reported in the city every day during my confinement. Health officials admitted the risk of incoming travelers causing a local outbreak are minimal given the local situation, yet solitary confinement remains. No wonder the business community has been complaining and so many expats have left and not willing to return, to the detriment of our supposedly international city. While I had a great experience in this harbour-view hotel, the difficulty in securing a room and the unpredictable situation with flights contribute a lot of stress throughout the journey. Hope this is the last quarantine that I need to do to get home.

    My Last Quarantine at the Penta - November 2021