The Countries Stuck in Coronavirus Purgatory



On a recent day at Hong Kong’s Kerry Hotel, a few city dwellers escaped the late-spring heat by wading in the property’s shallow pool, which, with its infinity edges, gave the illusion of spilling into the harbor. A few others lay on chaise lounges under umbrellas, reading books and lazily scrolling on their phones. These guests were not staying at the hotel; they had purchased day passes to use its amenities.

The true guests, the ones sleeping in the rooms at night, were a few floors above—and they had not checked in for leisure. Their faint figures could be seen through wide windows, walking the short distances across their temporary residences or looking longingly down at the pool from the gilded cages where they were spending two, or in some cases three, weeks under government-mandated quarantine. The Kerry Hotel offers many trappings of luxury, but freedom of movement is not currently one of them.

Remarkably, Hong Kong’s mandatory-quarantine period remains in place even for people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. It is one of the onerous, expensive, and often confusing regulations that the authorities have insisted on keeping, despite having done well managing the pandemic. Like mainland China and other parts of Asia, Hong Kong adopted a “zero COVID” approach when the coronavirus began spreading last year. Coupled with a strong response from city residents, many of whom remember the SARS outbreak of 2003, the outcome has been largely positive from a public-health standpoint: The city of some 7.5 million has logged fewer than 12,000 cases and exactly 210 deaths. It has been nearly 50 days since someone has died from the virus.


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