Round-up: Probing the societal consequences of COVID-19
Impact of pandemic on elderly services
Research by the Asia-Pacific Institute of Ageing Studies at Lingnan University has found that the COVID-19 outbreak has severely affected many services for the elderly in Hong Kong. In a survey, nearly 70 per cent of respondents working at the city’s service centres for seniors said that the “drop-in service” (69.8 per cent) and “social and recreational services” (68.5 per cent) had been completely suspended. Additionally, respondents observed that service users had suffered from “lack of social activity” (over 90 per cent), “increase of loneliness” (over 70 per cent), “worrying about being infected by the virus” (70.9 per cent), and “physical deterioration” (65.5 per cent). Between 24 April and 14 May 2020, the Institute invited all 212 subsidised centres for the elderly in Hong Kong to complete an online questionnaire to better understand the conditions, challenges, impact on service users, and assistance they need to provide services during the COVID-19 pandemic. A total of 110 completed questionnaires were returned. From the responses, the team made recommendations for clearer operational guidelines from the government; greater support for frontline workers; and financial support for training and equipment for online services for the elderly and their carers.
Students face pressure in online learning
Survey findings revealed that students have faced many pressures from school closures in Hong Kong due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Classes were suspended from the end of January 2020 and only started reopening in phases from the end of May. Schools switched to online learning during the period that students had to study at home. The research, led by Professor Thomas Chiu, Assistant Professor, Department of Curriculum and Instruction, Faculty of Education, Chinese University of Hong Kong, found that among responses from 1,168 secondary school students, the three biggest worries were stress from homework (81.4 per cent), academic underperformance (79.1 per cent), and inability to meet or interact with classmates (60 per cent). This highlighted the importance of mental health support for effective online learning during a global health crisis, he said. The team put forward recommendations to support students’ continued learning during school closures; mental health activities for when classes resume; and the need for a long-term policy on Information Technology in Education that addresses the issues found and narrows the digital divide.
School closures may widen digital divide
Initial findings in a five-year interdisciplinary study led by researchers from the University of Hong Kong (HKU) have shown huge intra- and inter-school differences in students’ digital competence among primary and secondary schools in Hong Kong. In addition, with online teaching and learning more prevalent during the COVID-19 crisis, the gap may continue to widen as a result of the pandemic if not properly mitigated, leading to further divides in academic performance across the curriculum, according to Hong Kong Students’ Digital Citizenship Development project leader Professor Nancy Law. “We can see that before the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly all students had access to some form of digital technology and have the competence to handle basic tasks,” Law said. “However, e-learning has only played a minor role in schoolwork. Further, there were huge divides in digital competence performance and family support.” The initial results involved a survey of more than 2,000 Primary 3, Secondary 1, and Secondary 3 students, and about 360 teachers. Researchers from HKU, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, and international experts are participating in the longitudinal study.
Stroke patients jeopardised by treatment delays
The COVID-19 outbreak is jeopardising patients with strokes because of delays in seeking treatment. Dr Gary Lau Kui-kai (Croucher Scholarship 2014), Director of The Stroke Research and Prevention Group (HKU Stroke), Faculty of Medicine, at the University of Hong Kong, analysed 73 patients with stroke symptoms who sought Accident & Emergency services at the city’s Queen Mary Hospital during the first two months of COVID-19 and compared these with 89 patients during a similar period in 2019. He and his researchers found that during the COVID-19 pandemic, patients sought medical attention on average 60 minutes later. Only 55 per cent of the patients were presented to hospitals within the therapeutic time window for thrombolysis treatment (4.5 hours from symptom onset). “Delays in seeking care or not seeking care in stroke patients could be detrimental to stroke outcome,” Lau said. “Time is brain and for every minute that stroke is not treated, it has been estimated that up to 1.9 million brain neurons will be lost.”