The rate of deaths by suicide during the fifth Covid wave in Hong Kong reached a crisis level, according to a new study carried out by researchers at the University of Hong Kong.

The fifth Covid wave saw 4.03 deaths per day over a seven-day period between March 11 and 18, and crossed the crisis-level mark of 3.56, added the research.

A suicide prevention early warning system developed by the Jockey Club Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention at the university had also issued a warning last week after the seven-day average crossed the 3.54 mark.

They attributed the spike in suicides to Covid-induced isolation and appealed to the government to open recreational spaces so people could find a way to reconnect with their friends and families.

"We believe social distancing introduced not only physical distancing but also emotional disconnectedness, leading to a sense of isolation and abandonment by family members and their community... [causing] an impact on mental health," professor Paul Yip Siu-fai told the Hong Kong Free Press.

Hong Kong recorded 1,200 suicides per million people when the SARS epidemic hit the country in 2003.

The experts now fear that the current pandemic could see such cases increasing from what was recorded in 2003.

Currently, the city is seeing around 11 to 12 deaths by suicide cases per million people. The researchers added that the elderly population is at the greatest risk this time.

"We estimate the number of elderly people committing suicide will hit 400 this year, 1.5 times more than last year," added Professor Yip.

Suicide Prevention Services (SPS), a non-profit organisation working to assist people in such cases, said that it received 50 percent more calls this year compared to last year.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong's Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngo has urged people to be more positive and spread positive news to ensure the well-being of everyone around them.

"The media can also report more on good people and good things ... These will all help Hongkongers face adversity, raise their ability to fight the epidemic, and boost their belief in Hong Kong," she said, when asked to comment on the report.

The highly transmissible Omicron variant has wreaked havoc in the city forcing the authorities to impose stringent restrictions to curb the spread of the virus. It recorded 6,981 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday.

Hong Kong COVID-19
People wearing face masks as a precautionary measure against the spread of the novel coronavirus watch the sunset in Hong Kong on February 29 Photo: AFP / VIVEK PRAKASH