An 81-year-old man ordered to stay at home after returning to the city from mainland China became the latest Hongkonger to flee quarantine on Tuesday, only to be intercepted hours later on a double-decker bus headed towards Shenzhen.
The border run came as health authorities revealed that six other Hongkongers under home quarantine had been intercepted in separate cases while attempting to leave the city for the mainland or Macau. Two of the six were issued summonses, the first such prosecutions since new compulsory quarantine measures kicked in on February 8.
Meanwhile, the government has purchased 170 new smartphones to help them track the whereabouts of those under quarantine.
One government insider involved in quarantine arrangements told the Post the phones had been given to both civil servants and those confined. “They have been using brand new Samsung and Xiaomi phones,” the source said.
The spokesman for the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer confirmed to the Post that about HK$260,000 had been spent to purchase what he called “basic smart phones” to check the locations of confinees and conduct video conferencing with them.
“The unit price of the smart phones is around $1,500, with a monthly subscription charge of $58,” the spokesman said in a reply on Tuesday, adding that the purchases were made under existing contracts with suppliers.
“These devices will be redeployed for other uses upon completion of the current home quarantine work.”
The elderly resident in the latest quarantine violation case left his home in Lam Tin at about 7am, then switched to a KMB vehicle at about 10am, according to a police source. He was attempting to reach the Shenzhen Bay control point and return to the mainland.
“The bus driver was alerted by a passenger who realised the man was fleeing quarantine after overhearing him speaking to his son over the phone,” the source said.
The driver then drove the bus back to the terminal at Ching Ho Estate in Sheung Shui and called police.
In response to the call, two officers wearing protective gear were among a team sent to the scene.
“The elderly man told our officers that he wanted to go to Shenzhen, where he usually stays,” the source said.
The man had been brought back to Hong Kong by his son last week as fears mounted amid the coronavirus outbreak. As a resident, he was then ordered to self-quarantine at home under the new government policy for cross-border travellers.
The man, who is understood to suffer from mild dementia, was guarded by the two officers in protective gear until Department of Health officials arrived. Workers were later sent to sanitise the area at the bus terminal.
The six cases announced at a Tuesday morning press conference, meanwhile, were immediately sent to a quarantine facility and investigated by police, according to the Department of Health.
Among them, two men, aged 41 and 37, were served summonses. The pair were stopped at border checkpoints at the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge and Shenzhen Bay.
The four other individuals remain under investigation and also face potential prosecution.
Just last Friday, eight Hong Kong residents were found to have flouted home quarantine provisions to visit a hospital in Wan Chai.
According to the Compulsory Quarantine of Certain Persons Arriving at Hong Kong Regulation, all travellers outside previously exempted categories are subject to a mandatory quarantine of 14 days if they have been to the mainland in the two weeks prior to arriving in Hong Kong.
Contravening the quarantine requirement is a crime, and offenders face a maximum fine of HK$25,000 (US$3,200) and imprisonment of up to six months.
Additional reporting by Brian Wong.