After being one of the first places in the world to be hit by COVID-19 (coronavirus), Hong Kong has effectively controlled the spread of the disease in the past two months by using stringent measures. In face of the second wave of imported infections starting from last weekend, there is another challenge ahead.
By Michelle Tsang, Caritas Hong Kong
Even though we have been completely avoiding group gatherings, Caritas Hong Kong has never closed its doors or stopped providing the services required in the period we’ve spent under COVID-19 lockdown.
At the beginning of March, public services and the commercial sector in Hong Kong started to gradually resume activity after being suspended since late January. Caritas staff are back in their offices and doing their best to accompany people in need in this unprecedented crisis.
We’re providing minimal urgent services at the moment. This includes round-the-clock residential services for the needy including the elderly and people with mental health issues.
Staff members of non-urgent services are working hard to mobilise volunteers in the community to gather and distribute face masks, hand sanitisers to the poor and needy and other products which help protect us.
Some activities like birthday celebrations in elderly homes, skills learning classes for children and young people and social work services for school students have had to be suspended.
Even when we had to work from home to reduce the spread of COVID-19, staff members used social media (Facebook, Instagram, Whatsapp, etc.) and phone calls to keep close contact with the vulnerable and to promote prevention and health messages.
We’re also using anti-epidemic videos which promote positive psychology, etc. We use technology to express our love and care for the people who are isolated.
The poorest and most vulnerable people are being affected in various ways. Face masks and disinfectant products are still expensive even though supply is increasing and those who don’t have internet to order them or don’t know how to use it, have to queue in the street to either buy them or get them free. Some people reuse masks to save money. This can be dangerous as they may trap the virus and people could accidentally infect themselves.
The government encourages schools to do online teaching but students from families who do not have internet at home can’t participate. Some pupils are left at home alone now as their parents have to go back to work. Schools closed at the end of January.
Originally, there were tentatively scheduled to re-open in early April. However, with the increase number of infected cases from travellers and Hongkongers returning from overseas, the exact date of class resumption is subject to further review.
Many people in unstable jobs either aren’t working or have lost their jobs. This is causing financial difficulties. Caritas is helping the needy to apply for financial assistance in their difficult time.
Many people are choosing to stay at home after work and during holidays or on weekends so the people on the streets, in restaurants and in shopping malls are still quite few as compared with the past. People in Hong Kong have been well-behaved and heeded the government’s call to wear face masks when going out and to adopt scrupulous hygiene practices.
It is encouraging to see the dedication and commitment of our staff as they adopt many practical approaches which are well praised by the community. It is also rewarding to see the work of Caritas, that is well-rooted in local communities, as we receive lots of donation, both in cash and in kind donations from numerous donors, companies and organisations who believe in our work.
With concerted efforts and all the measures implemented in the past two months, the situation here was rather stable. However, Hong Kong just starts to face the second wave of imported coronavirus infection. There may likely be more cases brought by travellers, as well as an influx of students studying abroad and other Hongkongers returning from various countries.
No doubt that we have to fight a ‘long battle’ as the COVID-19 is now a pandemic. Anyhow, we hope that with the closure of boundary control points, proper quarantine arrangements, early identification of suspected infection cases, sufficient protective items and good personal hygiene, we can manage to get COVID-19 under control in the territory.
I feel blessed to see the unity of the Hong Kong people and the solidarity of the Caritas family across the globe. Thank you all for your love, care and support. This pandemic reminds us that we are really “One Human Family, One Common Home”.
Hong Kong is one of the most densely-populated places in the world, with 7 and a half million people living on the island.
As of 16 March, there were a total 157 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Hong Kong.