Hong Kong questions costs of COVID rules on mental health, livelihoods

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HONG KONG, April 14 (Reuters) – To fight COVID, Hong Kong has closed schools and businesses, closed borders for nearly two years, banned more than two people from congregating and quarantined entire buildings. Still, the draconian restrictions failed to contain the coronavirus, and with more than 8,600 deaths of mostly elderly, unvaccinated people, many in the past two months, Hong Kong residents are reckoning with the costs of some of the world’s strictest social distancing rules regarding their mental health and livelihood. Empty streets in the financial center, shuttered restaurants and bars and bare supermarket shelves are testament to the disruptions Hong Kong’s COVID-19 rules have wrought on people.Register now unlimited access to Reuters for FREE. comRegisterJacky Ip, 33, runs a Japanese sake bar in Kowloon across the harbor from the central business district that stayed open until 4 a.m. before the pandemic but has since been devastated by shifting restrictions on opening hours. “We have lost so much money that we are about to close our business. At the moment it depends on the shareholders collecting money to see how long we can survive,” said Ip. Many businesses in the city have been forced to close, including gyms, restaurants and bars, while others say they live on borrowed time..Ip complained that landlords have failed to adjust rents in one of the world’s most expensive real estate markets to cope with the business slump to declare. “The biggest expense is rent and we have to provide for our employees’ livelihoods. It’s not fair. You told us to stop running our business, but you didn’t tell the landlord to stop charging rent .” CONCERNED FOR SON Beauty salon owner Lin Chan, 33, regrets that her nearly three-year-old son has had to wear a face mask since shortly after his birth and is concerned about his socialization.” He has been unable to attend class. And now he is at the kindergarten level, he relies on Zoom. The parks outside are closed and he has few opportunities to meet friends and family and communicate. So his speech develops rather slowly and he is afraid of strangers,” she said. Chan lives with her husband in a small apartment in the dense Kowloon neighborhood and she said government regulations that forced her salon to close several times reduced her family’s income. “The government is constantly asking me to close it. And then I can open for a few months. I just had to close for four months. So the impact on our lives is really big. I hope everything returns to normal soon, that we get our regular income back and that the child can socialize.’ SURROUNDED BY BODY As the recent COVID-19 outbreak swept through hospitals, medical staff worked around the clock to care for patients. “We have to care for 72 patients in one ward,” said nurse Lau Hoi-man, 37. “Our colleagues are extremely busy. They didn’t have time to urinate or drink water or even eat.” Lau said of the limited space in the emergency room and the shocking death toll “you may have to occupy every waiting room to place the corpses as well as our living patients.” “Most colleagues have experienced that you may have performed CPR while surrounded by corpses. It is very sad to see that.” FAMILY DISTRIBUTION, PEOPLE LEAVE Authorities will begin easing some of the restrictions from next week as the number of daily cases hovers below 2,000, but the damage will be difficult to undo. Hong Kong saw a net outflow of about 70,000 people in February and March, up from nearly 17,000 in December before the most recent wave hit, as many residents became frustrated with the strict rules. For those already outside of Hong Kong, the border restrictions have increased the mental toll. Beary Pang, 40, said his father passed away in March and three of his sisters living abroad were unable to return for the funeral. “Those who are abroad can only attend the funeral via video conference. We feel quite powerless. We only had one father, but when the worst happened, they couldn’t come back.” “It’s pretty hard to accept.” Register Now Unlimited Access To Reuters.com RegisterReporting By Jessie Pang and Aleksander Solum; Edited by Anne Marie Roantree and Christian Schmollinger Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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