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I Was Among the Covid Exodus From Hong Kong to the Chinese Mainland

A first-hand account of a student's journey to leave Hong Kong for the Chinese mainland during the city's latest Covid-19 outbreak

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Feb 22, 2022 2 mins read

Hong Kong confirmed more than 6,000 cases of Covid-19 variant Omicron last Thursday — another record daily high — in addition to the 16,513 cases reported in the previous two weeks. The total case count for the city’s fifth wave surpasses the coronavirus figure for 2020 and 2021 combined.

I was among the first group of students from the Chinese mainland to leave Hong Kong amid the latest outbreak. I saw the number of cases increasing dramatically, and getting out for the time being felt urgent.

On February 8, the day I left, more than 2,000 people fled Hong Kong through Shenzhen Bay Port, the main port facility connecting to Hong Kong in the South China tech hub of Shenzhen. That daily number was double the number of people leaving the city since the beginning of this latest outbreak in mid-January.

Source: Immigration Department of Hong Kong SAR, graph via RADII

When I arrived at the Hong Kong side of the port, it only took a few minutes to be cleared. But getting through the Shenzhen port area was an entirely different story: entrants had to fill out plenty of forms, do a nasal swab test, and, the most challenging part, wait for a long time.

Parents with blubbering children, older people requiring special support, and people who were just exhausted — we all shared the same feelings of unease and an earnest desire to make it through.

Following a three-hour wait at the port facility, I was assigned to a bus that transferred me to the place where I would be quarantined for the next 14 days. Everything was operated in a closed-loop.

However, some people had to remain there longer because they rushed to the site without completing some of the required steps — perhaps failing to secure a quarantine hotel booking.

People queue up for clearance at Shenzhen Bay Port. Image via Xiaohongshu

People queue up for customs clearance at Shenzhen Bay Port. Image via Xiaohongshu

The Shenzhen government requires every entrant to show a booking confirmation for a quarantine facility, referred to in China as a “Health Station” (“健康驿站”).

But the demand for such facilities has caused chaos in Hong Kong’s neighboring Guangdong province.

“Health Stations have been overbooked, with facilities operating at full capacity,” Shenzhen Port Authority posted on its official WeChat account on February 9.

“The port has found that the demand for accommodation exceeds the capacity, and some without a booking confirmation have ended up stuck,” the post continues.

One user on Xiaohongshu, a Chinese social media and ecommerce platform, posted that he spent a whole night in the cold port hall due to the lack of quarantine facilities in Shenzhen and surrounding cities.

As Shenzhen’s quarantine facilities, with 800 rooms available every day, were already cramped, I was sent to a hotel in Foshan, a city 50 kilometers away, to start the quarantine.

On top of the measures taken in Guangdong, my hometown in China’s landlocked Jiangxi province requires an additional seven-day hotel quarantine and seven days of isolation at home.

The view from a quarantine room in Foshan. Image via Louis Liao

Two days after I passed through the port, the university I attend, Hong Kong Baptist University, announced the pivot to a fully online teaching schedule for the rest of the semester.

For many mainland students like me who haven’t finished their studies in Hong Kong, the quality of Zoom classes, the policy changes, and, simply put, the uncertainty are concerning.

Hopefully, I will be back in Hong Kong, again through Shenzhen Bay Port, in the not-so-distant future.

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Cover image via Depositphotos

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