Where are our guidelines? Hotel sector says government has not provided details on quarantine measures amid coronavirus outbreak

Cannix Yau

Members of Hong Kong’s hotel industry said on Monday the government had not provided guidelines on handling quarantined guests, despite 35 travellers being ordered to stay indoors since the measures against the coronavirus outbreak kicked in.

A union for the sector also urged a rethink of the move to use hotels as quarantine sites, arguing such buildings did not have suitable facilities.

The comments came as health minister Sophia Chan Siu-chee said 1,193 people – 1,066 Hong Kong residents and 127 non-locals – had been issued quarantine orders since Saturday.

But hotels contacted by the Post and the Hong Kong Hotel Employees Union said they had not received any details on how to handle affected guests.

“We don’t have any guidelines for handling guests under the two-week compulsory quarantine. Nobody knows if our hotels have received guests for such purposes,” a union spokeswoman said.

A cleaner disinfects a door at the Empire Hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui. Photo: Sam Tsang

She said frontline staff, especially room cleaners, were exposed to high health risks, and if anyone was confirmed with the coronavirus infection or showed symptoms, the employees would not know how to handle such individuals or protect themselves.

“The frontline staff in the hotel sector are all working in fear and worrying about their personal health. We think hotels are not a suitable place with adequate ventilation facilities for conducting quarantines,” she said.

Under new regulations since Saturday to contain the spread of the coronavirus, anyone arriving in Hong Kong from mainland China has to be quarantined for 14 days even if they have no signs of illness. Some people, such as airline crew, are exempted.

Under the scheme, locals will be confined to their homes, while non-locals will stay at hotels or government quarantine centres. Those violating the order face a maximum fine of HK$25,000 (US$3,220) and six months in jail.

A spokeswoman for OZO Wesley Hong Kong also said it had not received any guidelines from authorities. She added the hotel had no quarantined guests, although some were from the mainland but had not been to Hubei province in the last 14 days.

“Our property will cooperate with local public health authorities and health care providers in the event of any suspected cases,” she said.

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Ken Tam, director of rooms at Rambler Oasis Hotel, said they did not have any guests under quarantine, but there were some general guidelines for the sector, such as requiring temperature checks and for customers to fill out a health declaration form.

“But there is no specific guideline on how to handle guests under the compulsory quarantine,” he said.

A staff member cleans seats at the Four Seasons Hotel in Central. Photo: Dickson Lee

Speaking at a press conference in the afternoon, Deputy Secretary for Food and Health Daniel Cheng Chung-wai said authorities would release the names of hotels with quarantined guests. But he did not clarify whether guidelines would be issued to the sector.

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Health officials said the risk posed by quarantined people was generally lower.

Cheng added: “They were screened when they entered Hong Kong. They showed no symptoms, and were then placed in quarantine. This is unlike patients in isolation or people identified as having had close contact with virus carriers.”

Legislator Yiu Si-wing. Photo: Edward Wong

Tourism sector lawmaker Yiu Si-wing said that as far as he knew, there should be specific guidelines for hotels to deal with such guests. “The compulsory quarantine was rolled out in such a short time and the government has not managed to get everything in place.”

He called on the government to tighten checks on those put in quarantine to ensure they comply with the requirements. “The government should closely monitor the number of people crossing the border and see if there’s any need for a review of the quarantine policy. It’s better to find a bigger place to isolate them instead of allowing them to stay in different areas,” he said.

A spokeswoman for L’hotel Management Company said there were currently guests from the mainland staying at the L’hotel Elan who have placed themselves in isolation for 14 days, and staff had worked out their own protocol in handling this group.

“Those guests are not from Wuhan or the Hubei area, and are confining themselves on designated floors,” she said, adding that their laundry, including towels, were separated and treated according to the Hospital Authority’s medical guidelines.

“Should we notice any cases of guests feeling unwell, we will inform the authorities concerned and make appropriate arrangement in accordance with the Department of Health’s guidelines,” she said.

A spokeswoman for Alva Hotel by Royal said in view of the coronavirus, the hotel did not accept any guest wanting to “self-quarantine” at this stage. “We will continue to closely monitor the latest developments and strengthen precautionary measures if necessary.”

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A spokeswoman for the Shangri-La Group said its Hotel Jen was not used for quarantine, but she confirmed there were a group of students from the University of Hong Kong staying there.

“First and foremost, we would like to clarify that Hotel Jen Hong Kong is not operating as a quarantine facility for anyone seeking isolation from the novel coronavirus,” she said.

“Out of respect for our guests’ privacy, we are unable to disclose any other information. None of our guests are currently displaying any symptoms of illness.”

The spokeswoman said guests were advised to contact the hotel should they feel unwell or have a cough, fever or breathing difficulties. 

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