- Stewart Chan had treated patient with no obvious symptoms at Prince of Wales Hospital in Sha Tin on January 19
- Four days later he was sent to Lady MacLehose Holiday Village and will finally return to work on Sunday
Stuck in a coronavirus quarantine camp for almost two weeks was not where Hong Kong emergency ward doctor Stewart Chan expected to find himself over the busy Lunar New Year period.
Chan, who works in the accident and emergency (A&E) department at Prince of Wales Hospital in Sha Tin, had treated a patient who had no obvious symptoms of the deadly new virus.
So a phone call from his supervisor on January 22, two days before the start of the new year, telling him of the situation came as a real shock.
His unexpected confinement in Lady MacLehose Holiday Village, a quarantine camp in Sai Kung, came at a time when public health care services were in great demand amid growing reports of cases of the coronavirus, which causes the disease Covid-19.
It also meant the A&E department, which is busy throughout the year, was short of a doctor.
"It was a real bother for the whole department," Chan, who is in his 50s, said. "All of a sudden, it had to arrange for someone to take over my shifts."
Chan found himself quarantined after a 56-year-old Hong Kong man he had treated was later confirmed to be infected with the virus, which is believed to have originated in Wuhan, Hubei province.
"Initially, I felt quite desperate because it was so unexpected," Chan said.
The patient, who had been to Wuhan, did not have symptoms such as a fever or any acute respiratory illness when he was in hospital on January 19.
As the patient did not meet the reporting criteria of suspected cases back then, Chan only wore a surgical mask and gloves, rather than a full set of personal protective equipment, including a face shield, N95 mask, body gown and shoe covers.
Seeing a possible risk of infection, the health authorities placed him in quarantine. The doctor was initially admitted to Prince of Wales' isolation ward in the early hours of January 23, then later that day he was transferred to the holiday village. He spent 12 days there until February 3, two weeks from the day he was first exposed to the virus.
Chan was among the first group of people in Hong Kong to be sent to the holiday village for quarantine. So far, the health authorities have designated three holiday camps, and the Heritage Lodge at Jao Tsung-I Academy " providing 150 units in total " to quarantine asymptomatic people who had close contact with confirmed cases or travel history to the mainland.
Another two holiday campsites were used to quarantine people who had travel history to the mainland but could not be quarantined at home or in a hotel.
Inside the quarantine camp Chan had to minimise his contact with others as much as possible.
"People inside the camp didn't talk to each other much. They kept their distance from each other just in case (of cross-infection)," Chan said.
With a three-person bungalow all to himself, Chan had to eat alone, with his three meals delivered to the door by staff wearing a gown, mask and hair cover.
His routine included temperature checks twice a day by officers from the Auxiliary Medical Service, and a daily visit to a medical post for checks by health care staff.
Life inside the camp was basic. With no television or access to campsite amenities, and a Wi-fi connection only for the first two to three days, Chan had to rely on his smartphone to stay connected with the outside world.
But Chan had a rather positive take on what many people might see as monotonous time.
"It wasn't too bad and I wasn't too bored. It was good to get a chance to reconnect with old friends, and I had all the time to reply," said Chan, who received numerous messages from friends and family.
Instead of working over the Lunar New Year, Chan had time to read, stroll around the camp and organise files on his laptop " tasks that might be considered a luxury on normal, busy days.
As Chan neared the end of his quarantine, thousands of health care workers planned to strike to push the government into taking more drastic measures to combat the virus, including fully closing the border with mainland China.
Chan believed such a closure would limit the spread of the virus, but he said a strike could also "jeopardise the safety and needs of patients".
The five-day strike began on February 3, before being called off as union members voted to return to work.
But the strikers were not the only ones eyeing their work. Chan, who left the camp on February 3, was keen to return to the A&E department on Sunday, after enjoying some previously arranged time off.
"I have been in touch with my colleagues in A&E and I am looking forward to joining them again at work soon," he said.
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