Variations in Asia's quarantine facilities expose inequalities in access to space
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By Rina Chandran
BANGKOK, April 1 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - As Asian countries look to slow coronavirus infection rates among citizens returning home from overseas, quarantine facilities - ranging from crowded camps to luxury hotels - have exposed inequalities in access to space across the region.
Nearly 800,000 people have been infected across the world and more than 38,800 have died, according to a Reuters tally.
While millions living in slums wait out lockdowns in cramped homes, Asian governments are also trying to accommodate tens of thousands of returnees who must be quarantined to limit infections, using military camps, hospital wards and hotels.
"When the Singapore government asked Singaporeans and residents to return home, we thought that those returning residents would require alternative accommodation," said Tan Shin Hui, executive director of the Park Hotel Group, which is allowing some of their hotel rooms to be used for quarantine.
"To minimise health risks for their loved ones, serving the 14-day stay at home notice period away from them is probably the best way," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on Wednesday.
Singapore, which has been praised by the World Health Organization for its handling of the pandemic, requires returnees from the United States and Britain to serve out the quarantine in designated facilities that are fully paid for.
As guests cannot leave their rooms, meals are delivered to their door, and the hotels offer laundry and personal shopping services, Tan said.
Guests are required to check in with the government once a day, and surveillance cameras are monitored to ensure guests remain in their rooms.
Marcus Chua, who was checked into a luxury hotel on his return to Singapore from Washington last week, has posted pictures on social media of his meals and of his room that he said was very "Crazy Rich Asians", referring to the hit 2018 movie set in Singapore.
"I would have had to keep away from people anyway in this period and may have put people at home at risk. This is a much more comfortable way to do it," he said.
"It's also a brilliant idea to keep open hotels that may have otherwise had to close and lay off staff," he added.
A few hotels in Thailand and Indonesia are offering 14-day quarantine packages so guests can "isolate in comfort", and a hotel in Sydney is offering a Home Away from Home package.
Vietnam is sending tens of thousands of overseas citizens returning home to camps where they share a room with 10 to 20 others, while Hong Kong has designated three public housing blocks for quarantining high-risk cases.
Meanwhile, some returnees in India who were forced to quarantine in hospital isolation wards and army facilities have posted pictures online of filthy toilets. Some have even fled their accommodations, saying they feared getting infected.
"The government was simply not prepared" said Sanghita Bhattacharyya, a senior specialist at non-profit the Public Health Foundation of India.
"The pandemic has shown the inadequacies of public health systems in countries that were not prepared to deal with such numbers, and have had to come up with solutions fast," she said.
(Additional reporting and editing by Michael Taylor. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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