Beijing and Hong Kong Tighten Coronavirus Quarantine Rules as China Prepares For Second Wave

Beijing has tightened its quarantine rules as China reported a record number of new imported cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, but no new local infections.

Authorities in the Chinese capital are quarantining all international travelers in select facilities for 14 days and requiring them to pay for their accommodation during that time.

Hong Kong is also set to place tougher restrictions on people arriving into the city, according to the South China Morning Post, which reported that arrivals were being placed under home quarantine for 14 days and a further two weeks of medical surveillance.

App technology is reportedly a key element of quarantine surveillance deployed by authorities in both cities.

China Temperature Check Coronavirus
A health worker checks the temperature of women entering the subway on January 26, 2020 in Beijing, China. Betsy Joles/Getty Images

It was widely reported on Wednesday that fresh arrivals in Hong Kong were being made to put on wristbands connected to a smartphone app that tracks the wearer's location.

A news release from the Hong Kong Government published Wednesday said the purpose of the wristbands was to track whether those placed under quarantine were staying inside.

"We have consulted the Privacy Commissioner. Indeed he basically agreed that we can use this application to track the location of the confinee," Hong Kong's Chief Information Office Victor Lam told reporters.

"On the other hand, in fact the app will not capture directly the location, but only capture the changes in the location, especially the telecommunication and communication signals around the confinee to ensure that he (or she) is staying at home."

Police and health officials are alerted if a traveler in quarantine breaks the wristband, disconnects it, or leaves confinement while wearing the items.

The South China Morning Post reported that Beijing's government was taking similar measures through an app called "Health Bao" that grades people on a traffic light system so authorities checking people's statuses in public areas can see if they are supposed to be under "home observation" or "centralised observation."

Hong Kong authorities began quarantining arrivals today as Chief Executive Carrie Lam said most cases were coming from outside the city and warned that a failure to tighten the city's measures against the novel coronavirus could make "previous efforts to prevent the disease from spreading... completely wasted."

Chinese officials said on Thursday that 34 new cases of COVID-19 had been reported in the country, all of which had come from people entering from abroad.

"Detection of no new cases is good news, but they need to be alert for the start of the second wave," Benjamin Cowling of Hong Kong University's Division of Epidemiology and Biostatistics told Newsweek in an email.

"Placing new arrivals under 14 day quarantine will be able to delay the start of the second wave by a short period of time, but it is unlikely that domestic infections have been completely eliminated and so those domestic cases will likely start a second wave whether or not the quarantine prevents new arrivals from causing infections in the community."

The Hong Kong Government said in a Wednesday release that it was investigating 25 new cases of the new coronavirus, many of which had recently entered the country from international travel.

According to Johns Hopkins University's COVID-19 tracker, more than 81,100 cases of the new coronavirus have been reported in Beijing as of Thursday morning, with 70,500 recoveries. Over 3,200 people have died.

By comparison, Hong Kong has reported 208 confirmed cases of the disease, with 4 deaths and 95 recoveries. The nearby Chinese province of Guangdong has recorded 1,378 cases of the virus, with 8 deaths and 1,318 recoveries.

Globally, there are over 222,600 cases, with 84,500 recoveries and 9,100 deaths.

World Health Organization advice for avoiding spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19)

Hygiene advice

  • Clean hands frequently with soap and water, or alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Wash hands after coughing or sneezing; when caring for the sick; before, during and after food preparation; before eating; after using the toilet; when hands are visibly dirty; and after handling animals or waste.
  • Maintain at least 1 meter (3 feet) distance from anyone who is coughing or sneezing.
  • Avoid touching your hands, nose and mouth. Do not spit in public.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or bent elbow when coughing or sneezing. Discard the tissue immediately and clean your hands.

Medical advice

  • If you feel unwell (fever, cough, difficulty breathing) seek medical care early and call local health authorities in advance.
  • Stay up to date on COVID-19 developments issued by health authorities and follow their guidance.

Mask usage

  • Healthy individuals only need to wear a mask if taking care of a sick person.
  • Wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing.
  • Masks are effective when used in combination with frequent hand cleaning.
  • Do not touch the mask while wearing it. Clean hands if you touch the mask.
  • Learn how to properly put on, remove and dispose of masks. Clean hands after disposing of mask.
  • Do not reuse single-use masks.