Cooped up at home - Hong Kong life under virus scare

Hong Kong is reeling from a spike in anxiety and a mental health crisis.

That's according to medical experts who say the struggle to contain the coronavirus outbreak after months of chaotic and divisive protests is putting unique stress on the city.

Eliza Cheung is a clinical psychologist with the Hong Kong Red Cross.

(SOUNDBITE) (English) ELIZA CHEUNG, CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGIST AT THE HONG KONG RED CROSS, SAYING:

"Some of the people called us tell us that their family relationships were already affected during the protests. In the past, before the outbreak, they can still stay out, and then to avoid like the quarrels with the family members. But these days they have to stay at home, without any choices, they have to face the situation, or somehow, it will also create more tension within the family."

Experts say the protests already led to an increase in depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

And the outbreak also strikes on memories of the 2003 SARS epidemic, when hundreds died in the city.

A panic shopping storm erupted last month where locals cued for hours before stores opened and raced to get their hands on toilet paper and stockpile essentials like rice.

(SOUNDBITE) (English) ELIZA CHEUNG, CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGIST AT THE HONG KONG RED CROSS, SAYING:

"Some of the people who called us, they tell us that they cannot sleep very well lately, because the their minds are always going to the outbreak, and also how to get the masks."

For many, working from home has become the new normal.

Derek Au's job is now done from his kitchen table - as his daughter does her homework.

He's got a well stocked pantry for emergencies and is trying to keep his children entertained while schools remained closed.

SOUNDBITE (English) DEREK AU, 46, MANAGER AT A NON-PROFIT ORGANIZATION PROVIDING FAMILY HISTORY SERVICES, SAYING:

"So far I don't see any negative effect on my family, my children, staying home for so long, and you know, my children haven't been really out for a week or two, two weeks or so."

But others have experienced extreme stress from being cooped up in the city's tiny apartments and the daily fear of contracting the virus.

A mental health hotline the government opened in January has received about 25,000 calls.

Derek hopes - some good can come out of the crisis.

SOUNDBITE (English), DEREK AU, 46, MANAGER AT A NON-PROFIT ORGANIZATION PROVIDING FAMILY HISTORY SERVICES, SPEAKING:

"This virus, I thought it came at a good time, where we are so divided. Hopefully it will bring us together again. Each one of us hopefully trying to fight this disease."