Parents beg for sympathy and consistency in COVID-19 policy towards children

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After a U-Turn decision on Saturday prevented sending a class of 8 to 9-year-olds from Kellett School to government quarantine facilities, the CHP has ordered 35 students of the same age from Harbour School into isolation.

Photo: Children waiting in queue outside past midnight in the Mid-Levels to get tested during a government-mandated lockdown / Harbour Times.

On 10 March, two teachers at The Harbour School, an international primary and secondary school with three campuses across Hong Kong Island, were found to have frequented Ursus Gym, the origin of the latest COVID-19 outbreak. All three campuses were immediately shut for deep cleaning and all students went home for virtual learning. 

Two days later one teacher was found to be positive with the virus, the other negative; however, another staff member who had not frequented the gym but had close contact in an IT classroom had already been infected. On 14 March, a third teacher who was in the same IT room for a brief period was found to also be positive. 

Fearing further spread, the CHP then ordered 35 students aged 8 to 10 and assistants who used the IT room to go to quarantine camps. 

As quarantine centres are not equipped with WiFi, students who are sent to quarantine would be unable to continue virtual learning. 

Of the 35 students who have been asked to take COVID-19 tests, 28 have so far tested negative. 

In a letter sent to the CHP, the school calls the situation “most upsetting” and requests the CHP “immediately overturn or at least re-examine” the decision.

“From first learning that one of our teachers had produced a positive Covid-19 test, we have done our utmost to assist the CHP in providing you with the information needed for contact tracing.”

“Our administration team has been working day and night for the last 96 hours to provide accurate information.”

According to the statement, The Harbour School had followed all appropriate government guidelines including wearing of masks at all times, temperature screening for all staff and students once at home and once again when arriving at school, and disinfection of classrooms between all classes.

“Teacher to teacher transmission could have happened outside of the classroom between or after class times,” the letter argues. 

The letter additionally notes that the classes at The Harbour School are small and that due to current precautions, classes only last a total of 35 minutes. No equipment has been shared during classes as students have their own equipment such as laptops which teachers do not physically interact with. 

The full letter can be found here (published with the school’s permission).

“I begged them not to do this but they are resolute. I am hoping this reaches you before CHP does to give you extra time to prepare.”

Ben Dixon, Head of Kellett school’s Pok Fu Lam Prep School Campus

A sympathetic, ‘consistent common sense approach’ 

Meanwhile, 20 students from Kellett School, a multi-campus international school group similar to The Harbour School, were supposed to be sent to quarantine camps after a teacher had tested positive for COVID-19.

Parents received a message from Ben Dixon, Head of Kellett’s Pok Fu Lam Prep School Campus prior to official CHP announcements that says, “I begged them not to do this but they are resolute. I am hoping this reaches you before CHP does to give you extra time to prepare”.

The decision was later overturned and the CHP only mandated COVID-19 testing. 

Similar to The Harbour School, Kellett insists that their students were socially distanced at all times and followed relevant health and safety guidelines. 

“We are looking for a consistent common sense application of the ‘close contact’ definition,” says Dan Blurton, Managing Director of The Harbour School. 

“We feel the risk of transmission is low and, when viewed in light of the potential impact of mandatory quarantine, is not a practical solution”.

An e-mail of Ben Dixon, Head of Kellett’s Pok Fu Lam Prep School Campus, warning parents of CHP quarantine orders.

Frightened, full of tension, not fit for purpose 

CHP COVID-19 guidelines have come under fire in recent days due to the large number of young children and babies sent to quarantine. Concerned parents have called for the government to allow home quarantine for affected families. 

Recently a group of toddlers who had attended a playgroup in Wan Chai where one parent tested positive were sent to quarantine despite all others in the group testing negative. The parents at the event all wore masks while babies and toddlers did not, in response a spokesperson for the health department stated that babies and young children who “do not wear masks well” were more likely to be quarantined. 

Kylie Davies-Worley, an attendee at the playgroup was sent to Penny’s Bay quarantine centre on Lantau Island with her husband and son, Hunter. She stated that the rooms were not fit for children with little space, no fridge, no cooking amenities and no baby facilities. 

Meanwhile, father Waheed Butt recalls how his two teenage boys were forcefully taken away from their quarantine hotel by a “dozen officers” to a government quarantine centre after one stepped outside of their hotel room to pick up a bag of potato chips his brother had tossed outside. 

“Our frightened children are locked up in a room, without their required Muslim meal, leaving their crying parents filled with tension and feeling like we are worse than animals, but there are still rules about treating animals well.”

Hong Kong has some of the strictest COVID-19 regulations in the world. Current legislation states that all individuals testing positive must be isolated and hospitalised, regardless of age, which has led to situations where parents are forced to separate with their children who test negative. Although there is no specific legislation regarding minors in this situation, parents have generally been allowed to stay with infected children under 8. The health department has stated that all deviations from official policy take place on a case-by-case basis. 

Edited for clarity and inclusion of The Harbour School’s letter