Hong Kong Quarantine Survivor: Karen Lawler

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Happier Times: Karen Lawler outside a tavern during a trip to Spain in the summer of 2019.

COVID-19:

Amid changing Government regulations, an American expatriate’s well-laid plans are disrupted not once, but twice, as two confirmed reservations are nixed at the last minute, leaving her to scramble to find appropriate accommodation to spend 21 days in solitude. 

Karen Lawler, an American expatriate living in Hong Kong, is a Hong Kong quarantine survivor following her return trip from the United States.

When it was time to return to Hong Kong, she did her homework, booking a room at a hotel that had been getting rave reviews from others having to undergo hotel quarantine.

But she was in for a few unpleasant surprises.

“I had done a lot of research into the hotels on offer by reading all the recommendations in the Facebook Quarantine support group and emailed different hotels,” Karen says.

“I wanted a large space, different sitting arrangements, a comfortable place to work online from, the ability to get deliveries, [and] possible access to some exercise equipment.”

Karen had initially booked a room at the Ovolo in Central on Hong Kong Island, but when the government came out with a new list in late December, the Ovolo wasn’t on it.

So she had to scramble to find another hotel and settled on Hotel Indigo Hong Kong Island. But there was another unpleasant surprise: the quarantine duration had been increased from 14 to 21 days!

Karen had a confirmed stay with Indigo from 31 December through 14 January. When the government announced the quarantine period was being increased from 14  to 21 days, she reached out to Indigo to receive her new confirmation.

She was quite surprised when the hotel informed her that they were prioritizing guests checking in four days earlier than her. So they canceled her confirmed reservation.

And for the second time, she was back to square one.

Room with a Harbour View

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Deluxe seaview room with king-size bed. Photo Credit: Kerry Hotel Hong Kong

Finally, Karen was able to book a room at the Kerry Hotel Hong Kong on the Kowloon Peninsula. And it proved “very nice and comfortable, good food, great view, but quite expensive,” she says.

“Unfortunately, after all of the government policy changes, I didn’t feel like I had much choice in the end.”

The Kerry allows deliveries, so Karen packed a special “quarantine bag” with yoga mat, PJ’s, books, etc.

“I’ve also ordered from HKTV mall and ParknShop,” she says.

So how is Karen passing the time?

“I’ve been doing lots of exercises and been able to see under the bed – it’s spotless,” she says.

“I’m definitely not here by choice, but when the government kept changing the [hotels], I had to scramble for a new place.”

As with many of the guests quarantining at the Kerry, Karen gave the hotel high marks.

“I have to say, things on the ground were pretty well organized – in terms of staff working and the process.

“I feel like it’s the government policy shifts that cause all the confusion.”

Food and Beverage

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All photos by Karen Lawler.

Hotels authorized to quarantine returnees had originally had the option of whether to include meals in their tariff.

Therefore, some did, and others didn’t. In fact, most of the hotels offered breakfast. But only a few of them offered full board.

However, when the mandatory quarantine period was extended from 14 to 21 days, this option was rescinded.

Set Meals

To clarify, the Kerry Hotel and the other 35 hotels on the designated hotels list were required to provide three meals a day. But different hotels have taken a different approach to foodservice.

Some of the hotels prepared meals in their own kitchens. But many of the hotels contracted outside caterers to provide meals for their guests. And they were often cold by the time they arrived.

Moreover, a few of the hotels offered guests a choice, but most didn’t. And there have been lots of complaints on social media about the quality of the food served at many (if not most) of the designated hotels.

A further annoyance: some of the hotels were serving the same dishes day after day.

In Kerry’s case, set breakfasts, set lunches, and set dinners were served at “pre-determined times” and put outside the doors of guest rooms.

Anyone with special dietary requirements should inform the hotel before their arrival. Otherwise, there was no choice.

However, guests could order off a special in-room dining menu in addition to the meal plan. And they could also order food delivery through the Dockyard app or other food delivery platforms.

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Sample menu.

But Karen didn’t seem bothered by the lack of choice.

“It’s kind of fun to get the menu each morning,” she says

“I’ve been pretty happy with the meals.”

While Karen supplemented the in-house meal service with deliveries of such things as fruit and wine, that does not mean the meals were inadequate. In fact, Karen was impressed by the size of the portions.

“[Each] meal is about as much food as I would typically eat in one day!” she says “The quantity is crazy.”

Karen also “loved” having a Nespresso machine and a mini-fridge. 

“But  I think a microwave would be great as well,” she adds.

Housekeeping

As per Government regulations, housekeeping services were not available. However, cleaning supplies were provided and left outside the door.

“I changed the bedding, and it was so hard!” this Hong Kong quarantine survivor says.

“King size bed without fitted sheet – so heavy to try and get the new sheet tucked in! I was exhausted.”

For exercise, Karen asked for a stationary bike.  While it made the room a little crowded, there was “still plenty of room”.

“They charged a lot, but it was a good investment,” she says.

Karen’s stay coincided with a serious cold snap, which sent temperatures plunging into the single digits Celsius (40s Fahrenheit).

In fact, many people staying at hotels during that period complained of unheated rooms.

At one hotel, a guest was told to warm up the room by boiling water in the kettle normally used to make coffee or tea.

And at another hotel, the guest had to purchase a blanket, which he described as “paper thin”.

Fortunately, there were no such problems at the Kerry. “There is heat here,” Karen says. “I’ve never been cold.”

Hong Kong vs United States

So how did the experience of this Hong Kong quarantine survivor compare with her experience on arrival in the United States?

It sounds like night and day. Would you believe, she heard about needing to quarantine while watching television at home?

“The [San Francisco] Bay Area counties said you had to do a two-week quarantine, but I only heard that on the news, and definitely, no one is enforcing it, so I didn’t [do it],” she says.

“[However], I was just working on family stuff at home, so it didn’t really make a difference.”

Karen’s Words to the Wise 

Now that she has survived her 21 days in hotel quarantine, does Karen have any advice for the uninitiated? 

“Definitely get all of your info from the experts – those who have already gone through it,” she says.

“There are so many ready to help.

But she did have one caveat:

“As the situation is constantly evolving, so are all the HK Government’s policies,’ she says.

“Expect to have your best-laid plans interrupted.”

For More in This Series …

This post on a Hong Kong quarantine survivor is part three in a series on how to survive hotel quarantine.  Click on the following links for more:

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