Relentless COVID-19 rules cast clouds over Hong Kong schools


Schools offering study abroad programs have traditionally been a big draw for expatriate professionals, which Hong Kong relies on for its reputation as a cosmopolitan financial and commercial center close to China.

With a population of 7.3 million, the city has more than 70 international schools. By comparison, in Japan, Tokyo and Yokohama, with a combined population of around 18 million, have about 40.

Students in Hong Kong, who have done much of their learning online for the past two and a half years, feel defeated and there is a “sense of doom” in schools, said Leo, 27, former high school teacher.

He quit his job in July, fed up with the restrictions imposed by the city’s adoption of China’s zero COVID strategy which aims to eradicate all epidemics.

“The constant changes between face-to-face classes and online classes really weighed on their willingness to learn,” added Leo, asking that only his first name be used. He now works abroad as a flight attendant.

Although there are variations from school to school, other rules imposed on students include quarantining entire swimming classes (where masks are not worn) if a child becomes infected and the ban on eating on school premises for children with half-day in-person lessons. .

Some students with full-time classes are not allowed to bring food requiring utensils, while all children from the age of two must wear masks outside their homes.

The multiple brakes run counter to global efforts to “live with the virus”. School children in Hong Kong have also faced much longer periods of school disruption than mainland China, which has imposed draconian shutdowns but has also had long COVID-free periods.

The restrictions almost certainly have an impact on mental health, educators and medical experts have said.

More than half of Hong Kong’s roughly 3,600 high school students showed signs of depression, according to a November study by the city’s Federation of Youth Groups.

The Hong Kong Education Bureau said COVID-19 measures in schools exist to protect students’ health. He added that he will update the rules as needed, without giving further details.

But medical experts say, however, that when the impact on mental health and normal social development is taken into account, city policies can do more harm than good.

“To focus specifically on the small number of child deaths from COVID-19 is to ignore the big picture. The goal of public health should be to make decisions that do the greatest good for the population health,” said David Owens, physician and founder of the OT&P chain of clinics.