'Virus scare, economy squeezing the poor further' - RTHK
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'Virus scare, economy squeezing the poor further'

2020-03-09 HKT 17:06
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  • A woman who had to give her job up to take care of her son breaks down as she describes her struggle to cope. Photo: RTHK
    A woman who had to give her job up to take care of her son breaks down as she describes her struggle to cope. Photo: RTHK
The outbreak of coronavirus and the ensuing economic slump is hitting low-income families in Hong Kong hard, with many of them coming under severe emotional stress, says a charity organisation.

In a survey of 300 low-income families, Caritas found many poor people have been asked to take no-pay leave, while the scarcity of face masks had left some of them wearing one-time use gear for three days or more.

The closure of schools due to the outbreak has added more pressure on some, as they had to quit their jobs to take of their children.

One such mother, Ah Lei, broke down at a media briefing organised by Caritas to reveal their survey findings.

The 49-year-old said her family has been under a heavy financial burden as she had to give up her HK$4,000 per month job to take care of her five-year-old son, who has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

She said she has a hard time trying to keep her son inside their dingy, 120-square-foot subdivided unit, but they don't have enough masks and are scared to go out due to the virus outbreak.

“Sometimes he would keep asking to go out to play, I’d tell him not to, because there are a lot of germs, because this virus is infectious," she said. "I said it’s not only about you getting infected, mum and dad may get it too and we may all die.”

She said her son sometimes throws tantrums and that depresses her too.

Ah Lei was one of more than 300 people from low-income families surveyed by the Caritas Community Development Service.

A social worker from the NGO, Man Si I, said they found the mental health of many respondents has been suffering badly.

"Because of the coronavirus, they tend to not go outside that frequently, so always stay in the house for the whole day," she said, adding that living in a cramped environment like a sub-divided flat can be in itself a setback to mental health.

More than half of the respondents said they are forced to keep wearing their single-use face masks, with some indicating they use their masks for three days or more.

And a third of those polled said their income has been affected because of the outbreak.

Man said the government can help by creating special positions for these people. She said during the 2003 Sars outbreak the government had initiated such measures to provide employment for people.