‘Ambush’ Lockdowns Trap Hong Kong Residents in Shops Overnight

Hong Kong’s new “ambush-style” coronavirus lockdowns have caught residents off guard, with some reporting they were “trapped” inside shops and salons overnight by the last-minute quarantines.

The Hong Kong government has been ordering sudden lockdowns across various neighborhoods in recent weeks as part of a mandatory coronavirus testing drive. The lockdown order prohibits residents from leaving the affected area while health officials test locals for the Chinese coronavirus. The testing may take several hours, however, and has stranded people in shops overnight in some cases.

“Authorities locked down 17 blocks in Sham Shui Po on Tuesday night but after screening residents, they failed to uncover any cases. One photo from the operation that went viral showed a customer of a hair salon at 263B Ki Lung Street lining up to be tested with his hair still wrapped with plastic, the dye job only halfway done,” the South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported on Wednesday.

The salon’s owner, a man surnamed Chan, told the SCMP he was forced to spend the night in his salon after authorities sealed off the area surrounding his business on Tuesday evening. Chan said he had to wait until 10:00 a.m. the next day to re-open his salon and that he was able to resume work only after “police officers removed the barrier tape” that had sealed off the neighborhood.

“It was inconvenient,” he said. “But we had to cooperate with the government. If they let you go then you go, otherwise you just have to stay here.”

About 30 customers were forced to spend the night in another Hong Kong hair salon on Monday night after authorities issued a similar last-minute lockdown order in the Tsim Sha Tsui neighborhood.

“Our staff, guests or people in the entire building are safe,” Hair Peace salon wrote in a Facebook post on Tuesday. “For all the guests who stayed in our store last night, we are very sorry for the hard night.”

A ten-year-old girl was among the customers trapped in Hair Peace salon on Monday night after her mother dropped her off for a haircut and left the salon to buy food, expecting to return shortly afterward. Before the mother could return, however, local authorities issued the lockdown order, effectively cutting the girl off from contact with her mother.

“After the [Hong Kong] Home Affairs Department became aware of the situation, the girl was tested and had her information registered, then she was allowed to leave with her mother at our discretion,” a city government representative said.

“At least seven of the 10 lockdown operations conducted since January 23 have failed to identify a single new infection,” the SCMP noted on February 3 of Hong Kong’s new coronavirus testing method. “The government said the lack of any new cases from recent operations was ‘expected’, as the aim was to screen residents before transmission chains could form.”

Hong Kong authorities on January 23 locked down an entire section of the Yau Tsim Mong neighborhood, sealing off 150 residential buildings that house an estimated 4,000-9,000 residents after tracing a new coronavirus cluster infection to the area. The city deployed over 1,700 officers from various Hong Kong security services to Yau Tsim Mong to enforce the quarantine, which prohibited residents from leaving their homes unless they presented a negative Chinese coronavirus test result. Hours before the mandate was expected to go into effect, Hong Kong government officials refused to officially acknowledge that they planned to impose the lockdown, confusing Yau Tsim Mong residents and leaving many ill-prepared for the sudden stay-at-home order.


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