What a difference a year makes. In 2019 we were in the throes of First Year Frustrations and Expat End of Year Itus. In contrast, 2020 and the speedy spread of the coronavirus has blindsided pretty much everyone, everywhere on the planet.
Travel and Covid-19 really are a match made in the seventh circle of hell, because the virus doesn’t travel, we do and this nasty little hitchhiker scabs a free ride.
After several months stranded in the UK, hoping things might blow over, it became very clear that they hadn’t and wouldn’t any time soon. With lockdown restrictions in the UK easing and having grossly overstayed our welcome (what was supposed to be a sub-three-week trip ended up being almost 5 months) we ran the reverse travel gauntlet to return to Hong Kong and my husband who had been alone and working from home what felt like an infinity.
We were quite anxious about the return journey and can’t help wondering if this was an uncomfortable glimpse into the future of air travel.
Travel Worries During Covid-19
How would we cope wearing masks for around 36 hours straight?
Nowadays, it seems you’re never fully dressed without a mask. In fact, it turns out the mask wearing was okay and nowhere near as uncomfortable as we had feared. I think it also made us feel less anxious about being cooped up with strangers in a hermetically sealed metal tube for the best part of 12 hours.
One unexpected side benefit is that no-one can see you fake-smiling or sporting an unruly tuft of spinach between your teeth behind a mask. However, wearing masks outside in the Hong Kong humidity is very sweaty and unpleasant.
Would we run out of food during the journey?
Very little was open at Heathrow, but Smiths, Boots and a couple of other places were open. Although food was served on the plane, the choice was more limited than usual. In the 10-11 hours between landing in Hong Kong and leaving the Expo Centre, we saw a solitary vending machine when we disembarked and were offered water and a slightly unappetising sandwich while we waited for our test results. So we were incredibly relieved to have lugged our own ready supply of snacks.
Would we catch covid-19 on the trip?
Thankfully not, the plane was quite empty. Everybody wore masks. We limited trips to the loo and washed/sanitised our hands regularly. Our temperatures were checked several times during the journey.
Would any of us test positive on arrival?
This is THE question that haunts all travellers arriving in Hong Kong. If anybody in your family tests positive, there is a very real likelihood that you will be temporarily separated, with the infected traveller taken to hospital and the others undergoing quarantine elsewhere.
We packed plenty of masks, wipes and hand sanitiser, but felt rather underdressed at the airport when several passengers slipped into what I can only describe and the high street version of hazmat suits. I’m half wondering when high street retailers might actually start stocking similar items?
Hong Kong Travel Restrictions
Since late March, only Hong Kong residents and citizens have been able to enter the city, a restriction which looks set to continue for the foreseeable future.
Arrival in Hong Kong and Compulsory Covid 19-Test
Arrivals to Hong Kong must take a mandatory covid-19 test at the Expo Centre adjacent to the airport and then wait for the results. Afternoon arrivals may be transported to a designated hotel overnight while they wait for their results.
We landed at the almost-deserted Hong Kong International airport early in the morning.
Within a couple of hours we had been through customs, completed all the additional paperwork and been transported to the Expo Centre for testing. The test was a non-invasive saliva test.
We then headed to a large hall, where each passenger is allocated a socially-distanced table and chair to await their test results. There were plenty of loos and water and a sandwich was provided. As we had anticipated, it was a long and boring day. Eventually we were released after 5pm.
Hong Kong Mandatory Quarantine
Assuming your results are negative you can leave the Expo Centre and begin your quarantine. Depending on where you’ve flown in from, you can quarantine either at home/in a hotel or may be sent to a government quarantine centre.
Our tests came back negative, so we were able to head straight home wearing an electronic tracking bracelet. Once you are home and you have paired your wristband with the Stay at Home app, you must stay there for the following two weeks. If you don’t stay at home, you are subject to a fine and a short jail sentence.
Should you test positive, you are taken to hospital. Should somebody you sat close to on the plane/or a family member you travelled with test positive, you may also be whisked away to a hospital/quarantine centre.
During the two weeks at home, you take a second covid-19 test. You arrange to have it collected and then assuming it is negative, you can remove the bracelet and head out and about once your quarantine has ended.
Current Travel Advice for Hong Kong Bound Travellers
For the latest up to date information on arriving in Hong Kong please join the Hong Kong Quarantine Support Group on Facebook. There is a wealth of information and the collective hive mind will answer any specific questions about travelling to Hong Kong right now.
Lastly, I’d like to add that for us the process of testing on arrival and mandatory quarantine ran smoothly and was reassuring and well organised.
Despite all these stringent travel measures for inbound travellers, Covid-19 rates are rising in Hong Kong at the moment. The rates per capita here are probably lower than in many big cities, but Hong Kong is crowded and living spaces tend to be small. Consequently, the worry is that a big outbreak could spread very quickly.
Measures such as compulsory mask wearing in both indoor and outdoor public spaces and a raft of other restrictions have been brought in. Everybody is hoping that cases will start dropping again soon.
We have no travel plans at the moment.
That’s more than enough about us. How are you? Where are you? What restrictions are you living under? Are you stranded? Have you travelled? How was it? Has the pandemic upended your expat plans?