Dealing with Covid-19: Italy vs Hong Kong

Our CEO Cristiano Galli-Zugaro talks about his experience quarantining and traveling back to Hong Kong during the pandemic, and what Italy was lacking in comparison.

Covid 19: Hong Kong vs Italy


I've lived in Hong Kong for the last 25 years and I remember the SARS epidemic back in 2003. When I came back to Italy and told stories of masks, gel, empty restaurants and stores, everybody laughed.

SARS was defeated in less than 6 months. There were severe economic and social repercussions that lasted for about a year.

Hong Kong, China, Macau, Singapore and South Korea successfully defeated Covid-19 before any other country, how did they do it? Why are they still so strict with their rules regarding prevention even though there are barely any cases anymore? In Hong Kong, there haven't been any outbreaks of infections in months, and even since the start of the pandemic, the number of deaths have been minimal. Prevention and cure have been the main ways through which this has been possible, combined with the obedience, respect and civility of their citizens. In this article, I will talk about my experience in quarantine in Hong Kong that lasted 21 days.

After 18 hours of travel and a stop in Qatar, I arrived in Hong Kong and my long pilgrimage started. Throughout my time at Hong Kong's airport, I had to go through 6 controls and 1 Covid test and before leaving I was given and made to wear an electronic bracelet. Luckily, this process only lasted about 3 hours while I've heard that it could sometimes last up to 7 hours. The last act was the transfer to my destination. No stops, and straight to the hotel that I had to book and pay in advance for a 21 day stay. All the staff were wearing protective gear and transferred me to my room, after repeating protocol for nearly half an hour.

In the 21 days I was enclosed in my hotel room, I never saw the sky, my window faced another building, and I therefore had to keep my blinds down for most of the day. I had my office bring me a small treadmill that I used every day to walk about 6 km and a mat to do some home exercises for about an hour a day. Besides this and working, I watched Netflix and sporting events. I got three meals a day at the exact same time, and with specially studied macros. The food was healthy and pretty good. Ten days and 5 days before my release I took covid tests, which obviously yielded negative results. Being confined to a hotel room in a prestigious Hong Kong hotel is definitely boring but there are worse things to complain about.

Container pods the government pays for lower income citizens to quarantine.

Entering the Country: Italy vs Hong Kong

Firstly, Hong Kong is closed and has been closed throughout the pandemic to nonresidents and to irregular immigrants. This is the same for most of the civilized countries in Asia. Contrary to this, Italy has open doors to irregular immigrants and weaker frontiers that have been more or less open or not strictly monitored. Also, the number of undocumented immigrants in Italy has definitely not helped Italy fight the pandemic – once again fault of the government who is too liberal.

Quarantine Protocol: Italy vs Hong Kong

In Hong Kong, all airports are closed to non-residents. Residents must go through a long sanitation process that lasts from 3-6 hours with numerous Covid tests. Once done with these tests, you are brought to your hotel, paid for by yourself, for a mandatory 21-day quarantine.

Those who have the right to return to Hong Kong must pick their own hotel based on their financial capability. In 5-star hotels meals are brought three times a day, and the cleaning must be done by you with the equipment provided. For 21 days you are isolated from the world with a bracelet on your wrist and cameras monitoring your room's exit. If for any reason you leave your room, you face a 2,500 euro fine and 6 months of imprisonment.

For those who cannot afford any kind of hotel, the government provides container pods free of charge with food such as ramen and rice. These campuses are also where entire condominiums are brought if one resident tests positive for Covid.

Contrary to this, in Italy, quarantine is more of a stated requirement rather than something strongly enforced by the government. It hasn’t been strict in any way since the start of the pandemic. Italy does not have any dedicated structures and there is no such thing like a tracking bracelet. Fines and prosecutions never go through.

Everybody wearing a mask on the busy streets of Hong Kong
The tracking bracelet I was given once landed.

Tracking: Italy vs Hong Kong

Personal tracking in Hong Kong is mandatory for all residents when entering a restaurant, bar, gym, supermarket, school, university, cinema, theatre, office, taxi, bus, subway. At the entrance of all of these sites, besides mandatory temperature checks and hand gel, there is a poster with a QR code that allows you to check in to the location for tracking. It logs when you enter and exit anywhere. If anybody who has a positive visited one of these sites, the relevant authorities will get in touch and bring you to the previously mentioned campuses with trailer houses or in a hotel if you prefer. Therefore, you are allowed to go out but the more places you visit the higher risk you have of getting sick.

In Italy, it seems as if the government preferred to let down the hospitality industry with numerous restaurants and hotels going bankrupt, instead of investing in a functional and necessary tracking system. All it would have taken was bracelets that cost a few cents each or a mobile app.

More masks in central Hong Kong.

Wearing Masks: Italy vs Hong Kong

While outdoors and indoors, I never spotted a single person not wearing a mask. Not even to smoke or to eat on the street. The police are very attentive and have no problems giving out fines to those who do not respect the rules regarding masks.

Even in Hong Kong’s humidity and heat, everybody always has their mask on. They are civilized and make many other nations like Italy seem primitive when it comes to manners. In Italy, some people refuse to wear a mask, others don’t wear it correctly and refuse to cover their nose, and too many people aggregate outdoors without masks to smoke a cigarette regularly.

Vaccines: Italy vs Hong Kong

The problem is that the Italian government doesn’t give you a choice of what vaccine to receive.

In Hong Kong, the vaccination system works extremely well, you can choose which vaccine to get and when booking online. You get your doses within 1 hour of your booking slot. Your app is automatically updated the moment you are vaccinated. In Italy, it seems as if we are living in biblical times. You can’t pick your vaccine. There is no tracking app. There is no electronic document that keeps track of everybody’s vaccination.

The food given to people quarantining in the container pods.

I wanted to shed light on how a city like Hong Kong has successfully beat Covid thanks to a combination of factors such as an educated and civilized population, technology, and common sense.

In Europe, only Nordic countries could possibly ever dream of reaching this level of education and civil manners. It’s never bad to look at those who do things better than us, so we can learn a thing or two from them.

Cristiano Galli Zugaro