Grace Baja: What’s it like to quarantine for 3 weeks in Hong Kong
Two bedrooms, three bathrooms and a living room that she cannot step out of for 21 days. This is the physical world of businesswoman and popular blogger Grace Barbers-Baja, a.k.a. “The Spoiled Mummy,” who is currently in compulsory quarantine in a Hong Kong hotel with her husband and three children.
It’s not the worst place in the world—in fact, it’s posh as Hong Kong hotels go—but for someone who was at the beach twice in the weeks leading up to her flight and has a beautiful, spacious home and garden in Manila, it’s incredibly confining.
She can’t go to the store across the street, or to the hotel lobby, or even step out of the corridor—for three weeks. Her quarantine bracelet, which has a QR code containing all her info, presumably has a GPS tracker too that would show if she did.
Grace surprised her Instagram followers last week when she posted photos of herself at the airport with 16 pieces of luggage. The number of suitcases aside, what really caught her followers off guard was that it looked like she was moving to Hong Kong.
She is, for a few months.
Hong Kong, like the Philippines, has not opened its borders to foreign tourists, accepting only its own citizens, foreign permanent residents or workers, or those with work visas.
“Our decision was very spontaneous, it wasn’t something that we planned months ahead,” she says in a Zoom interview with PhilSTAR L!fe. “I love change; I’m a person who gets bored easily. Also, it’s the new year, so new life. As a family, even before the pandemic, we’ve always been the traveling type. We were very nomadic, we would take the kids traveling every two months locally or abroad.”
With her husband’s work taking him to Hong Kong occasionally, the family decided to go with him on this trip. She also says that she wanted that feeling of security that the pandemic is under control.
As of this writing, the Philippines has 528,853 COVID-19 cases and 10,874 deaths compared to Hong Kong’s 10,512 cases and 183 deaths. And to think Hong Kong is just next door to Mainland China and one of the first to get COVID infections in January 2020.
Hong Kong belongs to a small group of Asian countries (like Taiwan and Vietnam) that have managed to keep their COVID numbers down with early contact tracing and lockdowns.
The payoff? Relative freedom of movement for their people.
Grace recognizes how lucky her family is to have this choice to live elsewhere albeit temporarily. The experience has taught her to be more grateful “for little things like fresh air and sunlight.”
Grace is looking forward to fewer restrictions once her quarantine is over—and shopping, of course. She and her kids are planning to go hiking and to explore the island-city’s coastline.
“I’ve always loved Hong Kong, it’s one place we always went to whether for just the weekend or a bit longer. I love the food, the shopping, everything about it.”
But first, an excruciating airport experience and a 21-day quarantine.
It begins on the flight and at the airport
If there is a single place in every country that tells you how drastically the world has changed since COVID, it’s the airport.
One of the world’s busiest, Chek Lap Kok International Airport handled 71.5 million passengers in 2019 and earned HK$4.72 billion (P30 billion) in retail and advertising alone.
Today, everything is closed. Everything. There isn’t even a place to buy bottled water, according to Grace.
Airlines such as Cathay Pacific are implementing no-contact policy with passengers as well. “Before, passengers look forward to the food they serve in business class—you have warm bread, butter and olive oil, wines, a real meal, etc. Now, they just give you a paper bag with two cold sandwiches, two cookies and a bottle of water. That’s it. A flight attendant told me the food pack is more substantial for long haul—but it really is not like before.”
After disembarking and you’re inside the terminal, she says, all you will interact with are health ministry personnel in PPEs.
“I didn’t expect that it would be so eerie seeing the airport with everything boarded up. It looked like a hospital. Filipinos love Hong Kong airport with all its stores and restaurants. Even airline lounges in Manila and Hong Kong are closed as well.”
They were led to a cordoned-off area with tables and chairs during the processing (each flight that lands has its own separate area and you cannot wander off).