How a birthday party exposed Hong Kong officials to the harsh reality of zero-Covid

A worker in a protective suit helps bring residents to quarantine after new cases were reported on January 9 in Hong Kong.

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Hong Kong (CNN)He's an unlikely critic of the Hong Kong government -- but after being hauled off to mandatory quarantine over the weekend, pro-Beijing lawmaker Junius Ho did not hold back.

Broadcasting live on Facebook on Saturday, Ho, who is known for his staunchly pro-establishment views, slammed his hand on the table and shook his finger angrily. The city's uncompromising Covid-19 strategy was as unsound as "sandcastles on the beach," he said.
"The government's handling of matters is completely outrageous, completely disordered!" he said in another post that night.
    Ho was among dozens of Hong Kong bureaucrats and lawmakers ordered into quarantine last week after they were potentially exposed to Covid-19 at an official's birthday party on January 3.
      More than 200 people attended the event at a Spanish restaurant, of which at least one has been confirmed positive with Covid-19. An investigation is underway to determine whether the restaurant or any of the officials present broke any rules.
      Hong Kong, along with mainland China, is one of the few places still following a strict zero-Covid model. The city is largely closed off to the outside world, with the government doubling down on its aim of eliminating all local cases of the virus in the hope of reopening its border with mainland China.
      Stringent restrictions, a sweeping track, trace and test regime, and harsh border measures, including 21 days of quarantine for almost all arrivals, have kept the infection rate and death toll remarkably low for a city of 7.5 million. But the controversial and divisive measures have also served to isolate Hong Kong, taking a toll on international businesses and any resident who wishes to travel.
        In Hong Kong, anyone who tests positive for the virus or is deemed a close contact of a confirmed case faces serious consequences.
        Positive cases are sent to hospital, regardless of whether they have symptoms. They can only leave after testing negative for the virus twice in succession, upon which they must complete another 14 days of isolation in a government camp.
        Close contacts -- like Ho and the partygoing officials -- also face weeks of isolation and multiple tests at a government facility.
        In his video, Ho made no apology for going to the party, which ignored government guidance to avoid large gatherings amid Hong Kong's first local outbreak of coronavirus cases in nearly three months.
        Residents line up to get tested for Covid-19 in Victoria Park, Hong Kong, on January 9.
        Instead, the 59-year-old lawmaker had a long list of complaints about his experience at the Penny's Bay government quarantine center.
        It was late at night, but he hadn't eaten dinner. He said he was not allowed to drive to the facility, authorities had taken too long to arrange transportation, and the rules were altogether too rigid.
        The city's leader, Carrie Lam, should resign over the party scandal, he said.
        The current Covid outbreak in Hong Kong, driven by the highly infectious Omicron variant, has been traced to infected aircrew members from Hong Kong's flag carrier, Cathay Pacific, who violated isolation rules by going to restaurants and bars.
        In response, the government last week imposed new restrictions, including closing bars and suspending dine-in at restaurants after 6 p.m.
        Lam criticized Cathay's senior management for the actions of its staff and said the government would take legal action against the airline if necessary. "Although the management may not be aware of all t