Hong Kong Sends Class of 8-Year-Olds to Government Quarantine

A class of eight- and nine-year old school children in Hong Kong is being sent to government-run quarantine facilities for a period that can last up to 14 days, after their teacher at a British international school contracted the coronavirus.

Parents whose children attend the Kellett School, one of the pricey international schools that has been linked to a new cluster centered on the business and expatriate community, received emails from administrators about the forced quarantine orders on Friday. A class at Kellett numbers around 20 students.

The school tried to protest the move, arguing that “these children were socially distanced at all times and both the teacher and students were wearing masks,” according to an email from Principal Mark Steed seen by Bloomberg News. The children can be accompanied by a parent or caregiver in quarantine, Steed wrote.

Hong Kong, which has one of the strictest quarantine regimes in the world, requires all who have had close contact with infected persons to enter mandatory isolation for a period up to two weeks. Over 200 people have been sent to quarantine in the latest flareup, which started with a trainer at a gym popular with western expats.

Kellett did not respond to requests for comment outside of office hours. The Department of Education said that the decision is made by the Department of Health, while a Department of Health representative said he could not immediately respond.

The news has rattled the community of expat parents in the Asian financial hub, some of whom pay upwards of HK$250,000 ($32,000) a year for schooling. The spartan quarantine facilities don’t have WiFi and meals are delivered through slots in the doors.

Studies have found that school children did not spread infection in Hong Kong and that pandemic restrictions extract a major social and mental toll on the young. Still, the city has taken a strict line towards education institutions. Schools were shuttered three times in 2020 and only recently returned to in-person learning, although Hong Kong’s overall outbreak is far smaller than in western countries.

The strict mandatory quarantine rules in Hong Kong mirror those adopted in places like New Zealand and mainland China, where the coronavirus has been all but stamped out through tough measures isolating all infected people, even if they have no symptoms. The failure to effectively manage contagious people with mild or no symptoms is a driving factor behind some of the world’s worst resurgences.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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