Hong Kong to focus Covid resources on elderly as deaths rise; Zero-Covid policy is having a mental impact, experts say

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam announced a series of measures for elderly residents on Wednesday as a wave of COVID-19 infections sweep through care homes, with deaths rising rapidly among the city’s elderly , mostly unvaccinated. The government will strengthen treatment and medical resources and set up more isolation and temporary care facilities for elderly coronavirus patients, Lam told a press briefing.

She said a date for a mandatory mass testing program, which has sparked panic buying of groceries and essentials in the city, was still under consideration, but the government had not not decided on the timetable given the scale of the operation.

“This is a major exercise that cannot be done overnight. If it is not prepared with all the details and mobilized with all the resources, it is not possible.” His comments come after a senior Chinese official said Hong Kong should prioritize reducing infections, serious illnesses and deaths.

Infections in the global financial hub have reached record highs of more than 500,000 cases and more than 2,500 deaths – most in the past two weeks. The city suffered the most deaths in the world per million people in the week to March 7, according to the publication Our World in Data.

Lam, who was speaking to the media for the first time in more than two weeks, said she would hold daily press briefings to detail the city’s progress against the coronavirus and clarify any rumors or misunderstandings.

Residents of the Chinese-controlled territory have been confused and frustrated by the government’s mixed messaging over the past two weeks about its campaign against the virus, including a plan for mass testing and whether a nationwide lockdown city ​​would be taxed.

China and Hong Kong have adopted a “dynamic zero” strategy of eliminating infections with strict mitigation measures as opposed to the approach taken in other places of relying on high vaccination rates and moderate mitigation like masks for the purpose of “living with COVID”.

The highly transmissible variant of Omicron has tested both strategies, but Hong Kong is now suffering the consequences of a relatively low vaccination rate, especially among the elderly, as the virus spreads through the community.

About 90.5% of residents have been vaccinated at least once, but rates for the elderly have fallen sharply with only about 50% for those aged 80 and over.

Medical experts from the University of Hong Kong have estimated that by the end of April the number of infected people in the city of 7.4 million could be around 4.3 million, with the death toll at 5. 000 dead.

Hong Kong’s hospitals, isolation centers and funeral homes are overwhelmed while public transport, shopping malls, postal services, supermarkets and pharmacies struggle to operate due to severe labor shortages -work.

Food prices have soared and supermarket shelves have emptied every day for a week as shoppers panic, fearing a possible lockdown.

mental toll

Yeung, a Hong Kong resident, waited 1 p.m. outside a hospital in the city’s eastern district in cold and rainy weather with his 3-year-old daughter, who had a high fever, before he could be admitted for COVID-19 treatment. .

Yet the 42-year-old utility worker had to stay in hospital for four nights without a bed as he and his daughter were not allowed to leave. They were then sent to a government isolation center for another nine days.

His greatest stress came not from being infected, but from leaving his wife and 22-month-old child, both with COVID-19, at home without any support.

“My wife suffered a lot. Her symptoms became more severe due to difficulty caring for the baby and lack of time to rest,” said Yeung, who declined to give his full name due to the sensitivity of the issue. “She said she would jump off the building if no one came back to support her.”

Yeung’s story is one of many in the global financial hub, which enforces some of the world’s toughest coronavirus regulations more than two years into the pandemic.

The mental wear and tear on many of the city’s 7.4 million residents often stems not from infection with the virus, but from politics and messages from authorities, causing panic and anxiety, said health experts. For example, the Hong Kong government has for some time insisted that infected children, regardless of age, should be isolated.

“At the cost of our physical safety… It seems they may have lost sight of the humanity therein. For all these measures, there is this underlying fear,” said Dr Judy Blaine, a wellbeing specialist at Hong Kong consultancy Odyssey.

The burden falls more disproportionately on the most vulnerable people in society, such as domestic helpers, migrant workers and low-income residents – many of whom live in tiny, subdivided apartments with elderly parents and their children.

Four in five low-income families said they faced huge COVID-related stress in the past month, according to a survey by local charity People Service Centre.

More than 900,000 students have returned to school again. Playgrounds and most are closed, parents are struggling to work from home and teachers are warning of the long-term repercussions of keeping children out of class.

Food prices soared after vegetable shortages in February, and supermarkets were emptied for more than 10 days as anxious residents stocked up amid worries over a citywide lockdown.

Some housekeepers have been forced out of their employers’ homes after contracting the virus, while some residents have slept on rooftops and in stairwells so as not to transmit COVID to loved ones, NGOs have said. local.

“The pandemic hasn’t lasted a day or two, it’s been two years and the lack of supplies and support from the government has everyone panicking,” said Sze Lai Shan, who works for the Society for Community Organization, that supports low income families.

“The feeling of helplessness creates a feeling of panic,” she added, with many people facing financial hardship because they cannot work.

Calls to Red Cross hotlines have skyrocketed over the past two weeks as COVID infections have spiked, said Dr Eliza Cheung, one of the organization’s clinical psychologists.

Most are older residents from low-income households and families that were already vulnerable before the last outbreak. Many fear they will run out of food and basic necessities and feel helpless.

“The feeling is quite desperate by the time they reach us. They have already tried many ways to search for different kinds of resources… they have come to the stage where they only have two days of food left in the family and they don’t know what to do,” Cheung said.

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