The Covid-19 isolation centre at Penny’s Bay has closed, with Hong Kong officials announcing that it had “completed its mission” after more than two years of admitting coronavirus patients and close contacts.
At the facility’s closing ceremony on Wednesday morning, a band played Scottish folk song Auld Lang Syne as workers slowly shut the centre’s gates.
Officials, including those from the Security Bureau and the Civil Aid Service, posed for a photo in front of a giant printed padlock and a sign reading “mission completed [at] Penny’s Bay isolation centre.”
Opened in July 2020 after a four-month building project using prefabricated units, the facility was initially meant as a quarantine centre to house close contacts of Covid-19 patients. Each of its 800 units was fitted with beds, its own bathroom, air conditioning and other basic facilities.
When infections soared as Hong Kong was hit by its fifth Covid-19 wave, the centre was converted from a place for close contacts to quarantine to a facility to treat patients with mild or no symptoms. That July, it was expanded to 9,000 units after workers from a mainland Chinese construction company raced to build Covid-19 facilities across Hong Kong, by which time the deadly wave had largely passed.
The city recorded a total of 2,876,106 cases and 13,333 related deaths since the start of the pandemic, according to government figures from January 29 – the last day that authorities published daily Covid-19 data. Hong Kong’s Covid-19 death rate was the highest in the developed world during the fifth wave, a Bloomberg study of Johns Hopkins University data found.
A total of 270,000 people had stayed at the facility since its opening, authorities said, housing 8,000 people at once at its busiest.
The Civil Aid Service said on Wednesday that part of the Penny’s Bay centre would be placed on “stand-by mode” and could be put to use again within 48 hours if necessary.
The government announced in January that the city would stop issuing isolation orders to Covid-19 patients – effectively rendering facilities such as Panny’s Bay unnecessary. The relaxation was made to “continue the gradual resumption to normalcy,” authorities said.
The centre, which was the last such Covid facility that remained in operation, stopped admitting patients in the last week of February.
Members of the public have raised questions about what will become of the facilities. Health secretary Lo Chung-mau said in January that the government would “actively consider the feasibility” of transforming the facilities “into other non-anti-epidemic usages in an orderly manner, with a view to make optimal use of valuable land resources and resume normalcy in the society.”
NGOs have called on the facilities to be turned into transitional housing for low-income families waiting for public housing.
“We thank the different [government] departments, organisations, teams and all staff for their hard work and contributions over more than two years,” a government spokesperson said at the closing ceremony.
The closure of the Penny’s Bay came on the first day that the Covid-19 face mask mandate was scrapped. The mask policy was expanded to apply to outdoor spaces in July 2020.
“This means all our Covid-19 measures have officially come to an end. Hong Kong has fully returned to normal… Everyone can smile and say hello Hong Kong,” Lo, the health secretary, said at a press conference announcing the mandate’s scrapping.
Staff and visitors at hospitals and elderly care homes, however, are still subject to rapid Covid test requirements, while primary and kindergarten students must test daily.