When my daughter arrived home from work the evening of April 29, she saw dozens of paparazzi outside our building. As she entered Tower 11, she observed that people from the Centre for Health Protection were putting up signs on the notice boards and the elevators. What was going on? Our building was to be locked down due to COVID-19.
Soon after, my husband arrived from work, and he read the notice. Thinking that we would be locked down at home, he decided to go to the supermarket to pick up some groceries, but the guards would not let anyone go out anymore.
Since my other two daughters were still on their way home from work, we informed them of the situation and instructed them to pick up some essential items before coming home.
As they approached our building, they noticed that our building was surrounded not just by the paparazzi, but also by police officers and people in personal protective equipment. They made some inquiries of the people from CHP at the entrance. The picture became clearer. Tower 11 was to be locked down and all residents of the building to be tested by 2 a.m. It was already 11 p.m. We were to pack for a 21-day quarantine in one of the government quarantine facilities.
I sat on the sofa in our living room. I could not process the information; in denial that this was actually happening. Just that afternoon, I was planning my errands for the next day.
Pack for 21 days? We sort of finished packing after midnight. To make the uncertainty of the whole situation feel lighter, we imagined that we were packing for a holiday trip to the United States or Europe and that we were about to leave for the night flight. To make it really feel like we were going on a trip, my husband packed all our passports, too.
We could not get into the elevators; they were all full as everyone was rushing to get to the ground floor for testing. Our neighbors — we call them our elevator friends — on the same floor were waiting with us. We enjoyed talking to them while waiting. It was the first time we got to actually talk to some of them. Most of the time we just saw each other in the elevators. When our elderly next-door neighbor came out in a wheelchair, we gave them priority to the elevators and, instead, walked down the stairs from the 25th floor.
We finally got tested at 1:20 a.m. April 30 and got back to our flat just before 2 a.m. We were told to wait for a call to go down and be transported to a quarantine facility, but we didn’t know which one. By 3 a.m. everyone was already asleep. My husband woke all of us up at 5:20 a.m., thinking that we had missed our transport. He was awakened by the voices of our neighbors who were filling the elevators to leave — as if we were all so eager to go to camp.
About 6 a.m., as the orange rays of sunrise were shining shyly over the horizon, we entered the parking grounds of Hong Kong Disneyland. Penny’s Bay Quarantine Centre is located inside the site. It was so surreal — as if the place was waiting for us.
The CHP officer in the bus with us said that we’d have to wait about an hour for our turn to get off and register. There were three buses in front of ours.
We finally got off and lined up for registration. The family rooms were reserved for families with infants and little children so we were to pair up, two to a room.
The arrangement was quickly decided: My husband and I in one room and my daughters paired up. By this time the sun was already up and we were happily sunbathing as we waited to reboard the bus that would take us to our block. We knew that the next time we’d be exposed to direct sunlight would be in 21 days.
We were assigned rooms in the upper floor of block 173. Just to stay outside a wee bit longer, we brought our luggage up slowly, one at a time. Right before we entered our rooms for the next 21 days, we took a family groupie and we hugged each other very tightly. If only hugs could be stored.
We found our room very clean and smelling of disinfectant. There were basic amenities: a set of bed linens, a pillow and a comforter. There were two single beds, but there was only one set of linens. We called to request another and it came soon enough. There was a plastic bag of toiletries — toothpaste, toothbrushes, big bottles of shampoo and shower gel. Of course we brought our own, so this was a bonus.
As soon as we settled in, I finally got the chance to reply to the hundreds of messages from friends, neighbors, colleagues, family and relatives who expressed their concern for us after seeing everything unfold on the news. Some of the text messages were sent the night before. I was not the only one answering messages. All six of us were so moved and touched by the flood of messages.
We also called our places of work and informed them of our situation. They were very supportive and made adjustments to our schedules. All our dear friends in the community and family were praying for us. We all felt so loved! We felt the presence of the Lord. We decided that we would all emerge from this quarantine victorious in Jesus’ name!
The girls were busy in their respective rooms because they had to continue working and studying online. We also stayed physically healthy by continuing to do daily exercise and workout routines, mindfulness exercises and dancing.
One of the major challenges of isolation — like being quarantined for a long period of time — is the toll it takes on one’s mental health. I learned that one of the best ways to improve mental hygiene and enhance well-being is to scan your brain for things that you are grateful for each day. This is what we did.
Each night, after we prayed the family rosary via Messenger or WhatsApp, we would take turns sharing what we were grateful for the day, no matter how small. This is just to teach our brains (and our hearts) gratitude.
Every day was spent in prayer, attending Mass and listening to podcasts. We reflected on the value of little things and events that we usually just take for granted. We are most especially thankful for the prayers and support of our friends and family. We felt so loved by the outpouring of prayers, encouraging messages and essential provisions. Knowing that we are a “foodie” family, friends sent us a lot of food and goodies.
Although we braced ourselves for a 21-day quarantine, we feel so blessed that we were all released from isolation on the eighth day. We are so joyful that were able to celebrate Mother’s Day together as a family.
What a day of rejoicing! As the Psalm today (May 8) proclaims: “Let all the earth cry out to God with joy.”
Note: The original story can be found at: www.examiner.org.hk/2021/05/14/gratitude-while-in-mandatory-quarantine-isolation/news/hongkong.