Hong Kong covid-19 outbreak: Elderly residents are depressed and isolated
Hong Kong covid-19 outbreak: Elderly residents are depressed and isolated

Hong Kong covid-19 outbreak: Elderly residents are depressed and isolated

Their cases are examples of the acute mental crisis plaguing Hong Kong as it battles one of the worst covid outbreaks in the world, more than two years into the pandemic. Depression due to isolation and a sense of hopelessness have hit particularly hard on the elderly population, a group with the lowest vaccination rate in Hong Kong and making up a disproportionate proportion of the more than 4,900 covid deaths in the city since the start of this latest outbreak.

Hong Kong’s covid death rate is higher than anywhere in the developed world, with 1 death for every 20 infections.

Like mainland China, Hong Kong pursued a “zero covid” policy that focuses on eliminating the virus or at least keeping local infections as low as possible. However, the methods that worked in the past, such as mandatory masking, social distancing measures, restricted foreign arrivals and mandatory quarantine regimes, have not stopped the spread of the more transferable omicron variant.

Since February, the number of infections has increased exponentially and overwhelmed the hospital system, which has been forced to turn down emergency and emergency services and instead convert most wards to covid treatment facilities.

The social distance constraints have led to isolation across the board – especially for the vulnerable elderly. Schools, bars and gyms are closed and outdoor gatherings are limited to two people. Meanwhile, overcrowded government quarantine facilities are struggling to treat and discharge covid patients, prolonging their forced isolation and leading to protests and some suicide attempts.

In a news conference On Thursday, Hong Kong’s CEO Carrie Lam announced a review and “comprehensive update” next week on social distancing and border control measures, as public morale is low and financial institutions “lose patience.”

“I have a very strong sense that people’s tolerance is waning,” Lam said.

Mental problems are most acute among the elderly, many of whom have faced prolonged isolation either in nursing homes or in small apartments for two years. According to the government census speak upthe number of elderly people living alone had increased by more than 50 percent from 2006 to 2016.

The closure of centers for the elderly and other recreational facilities, often the main support system for the elderly living alone, increased their sense of loneliness and led to depression, social workers said. Prolonged isolation in the home, combined with gloomy death reports and images of elderly people lying in outdoor triage areas in the news, reinforced their fear of becoming infected.

Only 66 percent of seniors ages 70 to 79, and 36 percent of those over 80, are fully vaccinated, with many still hesitant about the shots reported side effects.

“Some seniors have lots of questions, do not know how to solve the problems, but do not want to bother their adult children,” said the chairman of Hong Kong Patients’ Voices, Alex Lam (no relation to the CEO). “This can lead them to the ‘wrong path,'” he added, referring to suicide.

According to Samaritan Befrienders Hong Kong, a suicide prevention group, almost one-fifth of the 270 persons who sought help in the midst of the latest wave of infections were seniors. In July last year, the group recorded 438 died by suicide among persons over 60 years, the highest annual number since 1973.

Joyce Chan, 70, said she was unable to sleep at night after watching the daily news of infections and deaths. Chan was forced to isolate the home every day and experienced that her mental health deteriorated. The nights alone were especially hard to endure. Every rash, bladder and discomfort in the body caused panic, Chan said, but she did not want to bother her children. Television became her only consolation, but also a source of stress with constant updates about the rising covid death.

“When I hear the sirens from the ambulance pass by my street … I feel very scared,” said Chan, who is unvaccinated. “If something happens to me, no one will know.”

Chan was one of the many elderly residents who reached out to Crystal Yuen, a social worker at the Society for Community Organization, for advice on hospital appointments, emotional support, and practical needs such as rice and surgical masks. Yuen, who is also a member of the government’s mental health advisory committee, said a majority of seniors who reached out showed signs of depression.

“There are extreme cases of some seniors who have not left their apartments for two years,” Yuen said. “Without contact with sunlight and only communication over the phone, they will feel depressed.”

The stress has also affected older couples who only have each other to support. Dede Leung, 68, is the caretaker for her 80-year-old husband, but she also suffers from chronic ailments. Unvaccinated, the couple has isolated themselves together. Her husband, who has dementia, cannot share her fears and worries.

Leung recalled an accident when her husband fell off the chair. With jammed emergency lines and ambulance services prioritizing serious covid cases, Leung called for help from neighbors in desperation, but no one responded. After half an hour of fighting, she managed to lift her husband back into her chair with a towel wrapped around the edge of the sofa.

“I cry sometimes because I feel like I’m suffering too much, but I’ve taken myself together,” Leung said. “How else can I be – it’s not like I can consider death, is it?”

Hong Kong’s adherence to the mainland’s zero-covid policy, which experts say is unsuitable for the densely and culturally diverse city with a population of 7.5 million, is the reason for low morale in the city, said Lam, from the Patients’ Voices organization. .

Constantly changing government policies, such as a mandatory test program announced weeks ago but without further details, have caused residents to lose confidence in the government. Rumors of a lockdown continue to bubble up, leading to panic purchases in supermarkets and pharmacies.

The lack of support and insecurity “doubles or triples the pressure” for the elderly, Lam said, because they are more dependent on weak state aid and far more isolated than the rest of the population.

“Everyone pays a price,” Lam said. “But is the price we pay worth it?”

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