The explosion of the coronavirus infection has exposed deepening inequalities in Hong Kong, hitting the most vulnerable – the elderly, domestic workers and more than 90,000 low-income families living in cramped and divided apartments. For them, mandatory isolation has brought them more hardship than the virus.
With cases rising exponentially – over 8600 Cases were announced Wednesday compared to only a few in previous weeks – the province’s health care system is overwhelmed, forcing those on the fringes of society to make very uncomfortable arrangements as they work to break chains of transmission.
Some resident domestic servants were forced to take to the streets after they tested positive, ostracized by the families they clean, cook and take care of. Elderly residents who contracted the virus were moved back and forth from nursing homes to hospitals, unable to bear the burden of isolation and care.
Hong Kong, similar to the Chinese government, adheres to the “no virus spread” policy, and seeks to eradicate the virus rather than adapting to a strategy of living with it while mitigating the risks. The strategy has largely worked since the first case of coronavirus was discovered here more than two years ago, but it has collapsed in the face of The most portable omicron variant. The city recorded 44,000 infections in the past 14 days, a 100-fold increase from around the same time in January, and 153 The number of deaths since the start of 2022 – compared to just 200 deaths in the past two years.
The authorities have portrayed the battle against the coronavirus as a war. On Tuesday, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam announce The entire city’s 7.5 million residents will have to be tested three times over the next month — to mimic the citywide mass testing strategies used in many Chinese cities during the pandemic. Nowhere outside China has been able to conduct such extensive trial operations.
Lam has also expanded strict social distancing measures until at least late April, including a ban on eating after 6 pm and the closure of gyms, beauty salons and other indoor venues.
“We’re talking about an emergency,” Lam said. “Under the current circumstances, we should do it, even if there are legal restrictions. This is the mentality we need if we are going to have a fight.”
This fight was very difficult for the most vulnerable city dwellers.
Sze Lai-shan, deputy director of the Community Organizing Association, said the group had received 400 calls for help from those self-isolating in divided apartments and “cage houses“Bed-size accommodations have long been a symbol of the harsh housing situation in Hong Kong.
Those who fell ill waited days to be taken to hospital, while they survived without treatment. Families who rely on a single blue-collar job struggle to earn an income economically. “Without resources or support, they have no money and no way to pay rent and buy food,” Sze said. On Wednesday, officials announced distribution Electronic vouchers for all permanent residents to ease the burden on the unemployed and business owners – but not until April.
Chan was able to return to the family’s 270-square-foot (25-square-meter) apartment, but only because three other family members had moved up the stairs and someone needed to take care of their two-year-old, who had symptoms. Chan needs resources like milk for the kids, but he doesn’t know where to ask for help.
The coronavirus has also exposed the vulnerabilities of migrant workers who do not share the same rights and protections as other residents. Some domestic workers, the backbone of the city’s economy, have been dismissed by their employers after they tested positive. Cynthia Abdon-Teles, a spokeswoman for the Migrant Workers Mission, said about 20 domestic workers had contacted them for a place to sleep or food as their employers insisted they be isolated for 14 days.
Since some assistants share bedrooms with the elderly or children of their employers, they have been asked to leave and isolate elsewhere. But public hospitals approached their maximum capacity and were unable to accommodate those with mild symptoms, forcing them to stay in tents and sleeping bags in parks near hospitals, she said.
“It is also the employer’s responsibility to make sure of that [domestic workers] They are being put in a safe place… but they don’t even think about this anymore,” Abdoun Taliz said.
The government has announced plans to increase the number of quarantine facilities across the territory, but with the mass detection of hundreds of thousands of more cases expected, experts say these facilities are still woefully inadequate.
Meanwhile, the deaths disproportionately affected older adults, particularly in nursing homes. Of the first 102 people who died in this latest pandemic wave, about 60 percent were nursing home residents. The Vaccination rate for people aged 80 and over It still lags significantly behind the rest of the world at just 28 percent.
Unable to keep up with ever-changing official guidelines, staff in care homes have had to improvise, finding temporary quarantine rooms for both residents and co-workers.
“What counts as a clean area? How do we move the elderly from one room to another while we disinfect and prepare the quarantine rooms? A staff member at a nursing home where several residents tested positive said, “She only gave her last name, Hui, due to concerns that she might lose her job.
Chua Hoi Wai, chief executive of the Hong Kong Council of Social Service, said the situation was escalating as more home caregivers and residents tested positive for the virus. He added that the government should provide temporary accommodation for employees in these homes.
Lam, the city’s chief executive, urged the community to remain united in the fight against the virus. “After the storm, we’ll see a rainbow,” she said.
“I feel helpless,” he said, “like the end of the world.” “But I also need to smile in front of my family and help out with the chores as best I can.”
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