This 8-hour health screening could be the new norm for international travel
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Hong Kong was part of the initial wave of countries impacted by the coronavirus, and has closed its borders to non-residents since March. However, locals are still allowed to enter — with a number of caveats, including an incredibly stringent health screening process.
Hong Kong-based journalist Laurel Chor documented her experience at Hong Kong International Airport (HKG) 14 May after travelling from Paris (CDG) by way of London (LHR). The newly implemented COVID-19 screening process resulted in an eight-hour wait, which she described in detail on Twitter.
Chor reported that, upon arrival, she first had to fill out a quarantine order as well as a good-health declaration before downloading a health tracking app to her phone. She was also issued a bracelet with a registered tracker.
A health department official looked through all of Chor’s documents, pointed out that she could exit her quarantine on 28 May if she stayed healthy, then showed her how to track any symptoms as well as her temperature. He also issued her a thermometer to use at home. Chor was also asked to report her method of transportation home, including license plate number of the vehicle.
After Chor and her fellow passengers collected their baggage, a series of buses transported them to the Asia World Expo convention centre, where they left their luggage in one area and picked up identification tags before being shuttled to another part of the centre to receive a 30-page bilingual packet of information and provide a test sample. Each passenger received a unique number and had to wait their turn for the self-test, which required deep-throat saliva self-collected within semi-private screening booths.
Once the samples had been collected, the long wait for test results began. Chor described 16 rows of 12 individual tables and chairs per row set up at safe distances from each other, 192 in total, sprinkled throughout the vast exhibition hall. Sandwiches and bottled water were distributed to each passenger, with crackers and more water offered later on. Chor noticed one sanitation error: One worker accepted an exchanged sandwich and put it back into the food cart. She noted that the workers did their best to avoid stating a number for wait times, but admitted that the process could take up to eight hours.
Chor finally got her test results well past the six-hour waiting mark: Negative for COVID-19. She was released to her waiting family, and will be allowed to leave her home after 14 days if she remains healthy. Chor noted that breaking her quarantine for any reason would be subject to a potential fine of up to £2,645 and up to six months in jail.
Chor’s full experience, as documented on Twitter, can be read here.
While Hong Kong’s all-day screening process is undeniably rigorous, strict health protocols will likely become the new norm for post-COVID-19 travel around the world, just as heightened security and baggage restrictions became the norm following 9/11. South Korea already has similarly stringent protocols in place, according to one recent traveller, and many other East Asian countries such as Taiwan already have temperature screening and hygienic procedures in place throughout their airports.
The impact of such screening procedures will be momentous for the travel industry: People may become more reluctant to travel not just because of safety concerns, but also because a two-week quarantine is unrealistic for nearly any vacationer. At least in some destinations such as Iceland, travellers will be able to wait on their test results from the comfort of their hotel or Airbnb.
Featured image by Michel Porro/Newsmakers
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