Confessions from mandatory quarantine
I feel great this morning but last night the hypochondria was bad. It starts when I turn the light out. Did I just cough? I lay there waiting for the next one, it doesn’t come so I clear my throat anyway. Maybe that’s how it starts. My heart starts beating faster. I try to acknowledge it mindfully but the mind is not having any of it. Instead it reels off a list of symptoms to watch out for. Shortness of breath, yes, my heart is beating faster now and breaths are shorter. Take a deep breath and relax. No chance, the deep breath turns into a cough. Kick the bed covers aside because I’m starting to feel hot. Fever? I put my hand on my brow. Cold sweat.
I haven’t seen anyone for ten days, not since I arrived back from Kuala Lumpur. Returning Hong Kong residents are compelled to go through a fourteen day quarantine period after arrival. Food is delivered, left at the door.
I sit at the table for a while, until the panic subsides. Then I stick the thermometer in my mouth. I don’t have one of those fancy infra-red ones the inform you with the click of a button.
I must admit I jumped the gun a little on all this corona virus business. I lived through Sars back in 2003. That had hit Hong Kong pretty hard but by mid-April that year infections were falling and there was a light at the end of the tunnel. By mid-February this year, new cases in China were falling, Hong Kong hadn’t been hit so hard anyway. I assumed it would run its course much the same way as before. At that point it hadn’t yet ballooned in the west.
It hadn’t ballooned in Malaysia either so I booked a flight to Kuala Lumpur and an Airbnb for a month. There were a few places on the peninsula I was keen to explore. Everything was perfectly normal for the first few days. I did some research, went to a park in the north of the city for an evening shot (above) and got savaged by mosquitoes. And then I heard of a religious festival that had been attended by 14,000 people from all over Asia and the authorities were concerned. A day or two later the number of cases in Malaysia started to swell and the city went into lockdown.
The thermometer says normal but I don’t feel like going back to bed yet.
It was a nice airbnb but for two weeks it became a bit of a prison. I was only allowed to go as far as the nearest supermarket, a five minute walk. The only people I saw were the security guard at the apartment block, who checked my temperature every time I went in or out, and the check-out guy at the store. By the second week I was already beginning to feel a little depressed but when the Malaysian government said the lockdown would continue for another two weeks I knew I had to at least try and get back to Hong Kong.
I was lucky, I found a flight pretty quickly. But I didn’t tell anyone until the night before I flew. I didn’t want the misery of having to tell them it had been cancelled. To be honest I was surprised that it didn’t get cancelled, there were only nine passengers.
There was a thorough screening process on arrival. An army of officials in masks, gloves and visors asking a barrage of questions: where have you been? How long were you there? And who were did you see? They took my temperature again, quizzed me on potential symptoms and where I was going to sit out my quarantine. I was made to download and app onto my phone and wear a wrist band with a serial number and a QR code. The app included a code reader buzzes me a random times upon which I have to scan the wrist band. I presume it is sending GPS data back to ensure that I am where I said I would be. Failure would earn a HK$25,000 fine and several months in prison.
For the first week all was good, I busied myself with research, read books and old magazines, listened to music and played my guitar. Normally I have no problem at all with being alone but these are not normal times. Now the stress of being stuck in a small Hong Kong apartment is taking its toll. Daytimes are mostly okay, I can keep myself busy and talk to people online. But I dread the night. I try not t look at news sites in the evening because there is always some new thing to worry about, new possible symptoms or maybe you got it and you don’t have any symptoms at all. But even avoiding the news it seems the only way to sleep is to be propped up in bed with a book until I fall asleep reading.
That was over a week ago. I’m happy to say I came through it all okay and so far I am still fit and well. Lockdowns are horrible, total quarantine is worse but they do work. New infections in Hong Kong have been in low single figures for several days now and there is a semblance of normality around town. Having said that, schools, bars, gyms and government facilities such as libraries are still closed and those that can work from home are still doing so. Hong Kong can’t get back to normal until the rest of the world catches up so stay safe and stay home as much as you can.
Now wash your hands.