Four months after recovering from Covid-19, Mable Wong still feels anxious and has difficulty falling asleep at night. The freelance translator in her 30s is awake until 2am or 3am most nights, her mind churning with memories of staying in hospital for almost a month, and the fear that she might fall ill again. She returned to Hong Kong in March from a cultural exchange trip to Europe and had to spend two weeks at home in self-quarantine. Single and living with her parents, she began feeling sick, with an upset stomach and diarrhoea. She sought treatment, tested positive for Covid-19 and was hospitalised in late March. She says her 27-day stint in hospital, sharing a 100 sq ft room with another patient, was like being in prison. All she could do was surf the internet, watch television, talk to her family via video calls, and do simple exercises. Wong was discharged in late April, but still does not feel completely well, physically or mentally. “It has been four months, but I have not yet resumed my normal life,” she says. Wong is one of more than 4,400 people who have recovered from Covid-19 in Hong Kong. The city has recorded more than 4,800 infections and more than 90 deaths. Many survivors say they continue to grapple with various lingering after-effects. Hong Kong schools get new Covid-19 guidelines ahead of in-person classes Wong did not go out for a month after she returned home from hospital, fearing crowds and the risk of reinfection. She says she developed anxiety disorder and, aside from insomnia, is easily agitated. She constantly worries about her health, and washes her hands so frequently that her skin peels. She has no physical symptoms, and X-rays show her lungs are functioning normally, but she still worries about the long-term impact of Covid-19 on her health. Seeing a psychologist and taking medicine helped, but when Hong Kong’s third wave of infections came in July, she felt more stressed. “I worry if I still have the virus in my body, and if there’s a chance I might be reinfected,” she says. “I feel depressed and helpless.” ‘I keep busy to avoid recalling it all’ The surge of Covid-19 infections in July hit Eddy Siu and his family hard when five of them fell ill and landed in hospital at the same time. “I felt anxious. I felt time passed so slowly as I waited in uncertainty,” says Siu, 41, an editorial support staff member of the South China Morning Post. The others who tested positive were his father, 82, mother, 64, elder brother, 42, and niece, four. For the family, who live together in Tsz Wan Shan, their nightmare began in early July when Siu’s father became the first to fall ill. Soon, Siu himself developed symptoms of cold, cough and weakness in his arms and legs, and a loss of appetite. Explainer | What you need to know about Hong Kong’s mass Covid-19 tests All five family members were tested, found to be infected and admitted to hospital. Siu spent two weeks confined to a 100 sq ft room with another patient. Although he was worried about his parents, brother and niece, he could not see them most of the time. Siu, his brother and niece were discharged on the same day at the end of July, and his father returned home in mid-August. His mother is the only one still in hospital, where she remains in intensive care. He worries about his mother, who cannot have visitors or speak when she is on a ventilator. To encourage her, he sent family photos and the family has spoken to her via video calls, with the help of nurses. Hong Kong’s massage parlours, gyms reopen but where are all the customers? Siu says his feelings of anxiety remain even as he minds his health and takes care of his father, who has experienced a noticeable decline in memory since being infected. His brother, a businessman, has returned to work, while Siu is working from home. Sometimes, however, the stress of their situation is so overwhelming that he starts doing housework to distract himself. “I keep myself busy to avoid recalling it all,” he says. “I’m worried about my mum, and I’m spending more time taking care of my father and my niece, to ensure they are doing well.” ‘People treat us like monsters’ The last thing housewife Sophie* expected after her two-and-a-half-year-old son recovered from Covid-19 was that the family would be shunned by neighbours, relatives and friends afraid of being infected. After visiting family in Britain, the Hongkonger and her toddler returned to Hong Kong in April and had to be quarantined at home. Her husband did not travel with them. The boy was the only one who fell ill, testing positive for Covid-19 and being admitted to hospital. Sophie, in her 30s, stayed with him throughout the three weeks despite the risk of being infected herself. When he recovered and was discharged, it was Sophie’s turn to stay in a quarantine centre for two weeks because she was considered a close contact of a confirmed case. Is Hong Kong’s mass Covid-19 testing scheme worth the trouble? With her husband having to work, there was no one to take care of their son, and none of her relatives and friends would help. Sophie ended up taking her son with her to the quarantine centre. “Doctors and nurses took good care of my son in hospital. But the moment we left the hospital, people seemed to be scared of us, and treated us like ‘monsters’,” she says. “I felt more isolated than ever.” When they finally returned home, she noticed that her neighbours did not want to get into the same lift with them. Friends did not contact her or ask her out. Aware they were being stigmatised, she began avoiding people. Sophie and her son stay indoors most of the time, and she checks that her neighbours on the same floor are not around before opening her door. Hong Kong ministers defend effectiveness of Covid-19 mass testing She says she feels anxious and depressed. She went so far as to look up mental support hotlines, but did not call, believing no one would understand. “I did not want to meet people, and I did not want to talk about it. I’m afraid of people knowing about my son’s infection, and discriminating against him,” she says. Important to seek support Psychiatrist Dr Ivan Mak Wing-chit says past experience suggests the pandemic’s impact on survivors can include mental disorders like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression and anxiety. He led a study on the long-term psychiatric impact on survivors of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) epidemic of 2003, which found that 30 months after the outbreak, a third of survivors had psychiatric disorders, a quarter had PTSD and 15.6 per cent had depressive disorders. “Some responses to acute stress are normal and they gradually disappear,” he says. “But if they remain for more than one month, and people start losing confidence in their control over their lives, that should be taken seriously.” Aside from the support of family and friends, he recommends seeking professional help. Re-establishing social interaction, for example, through help groups where survivors share their experiences and support one another, also helps people recover from the impact of the pandemic, he says. Covid-19 survivor Wong calls on the government to provide financial support and psychological counselling for those who have recovered. In mid-May, she formed a group, the Hong Kong Alliance of Covid-19 Victims, for those who have recovered. It has more than 10 members, who share their experiences and the challenges they face. “The coronavirus infection has changed me. It is a life lesson which has taught me to face adversities in life with a positive attitude and never give up easily,” she says. *Name changed at interviewee’s request.