A paediatrician at a Hong Kong public hospital found that nearly 20 per cent of children he treated for Covid-19 during the city’s worst and deadliest wave suffered from long Covid, with some seeing a decline in memory and cognitive function.

Covid-19 coronavirus virus student school children
Children wear masks under the Covid-19 pandemic. File photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Speaking on Commercial Radio on Wednesday morning, Mike Kwan, a consultant paediatrician at the Princess Margaret Hospital, said around 50 children of 288 cases he treated had experienced symptoms of the long-term post-Covid condition.

These children, aged between eight and 13, contracted the coronavirus during Hong Kong’s fifth-wave when they were unvaccinated, Kwan said.

The doctor said a patient is considered to have long Covid if they develop symptoms that last for more than two months and which cannot be explained by other diseases, more than three months after their initial infection.

Kwan said the long Covid symptoms of children infected during the fifth were different from those in previous outbreaks.

Dr Mike Kwan, Princess Margaret Hospital
Dr Mike Kwan, a consultant paediatrician at the Princess Margaret Hospital. File photo: RTHK, video screenshot.

Those affected by post Covid-19 conditions after earlier infections lost their sense of smell and taste, Kwan said. But for fifth-wave cases, they observed long-term effects on different parts of their body.

Their symptoms included a deterioration of memory and a decline in cognitive abilities, as well as fatigue, insomnia and headache. As an example, Kwan said he met a boy who used to excel in mathematics but now struggled to solve math problems after recovering from Covid-19.

In a rare case, Kwan said a girl would lose her eyesight for short periods of time each day.

“This is what really makes us worry that the Omicron strains are actually attacking different organs,” Kwan said.

Kwan advised children suffering from long Covid to take regular rest, do more exercise, maintain a balanced diet and consume more vegetables, as doctors work to identify their causes of illnesses. He said overseas experience suggested that some patients naturally recovered from long Covid over time.

Additionally, Kwan urged parents to get their children vaccinated as soon as possible. He said studies showed that vaccinated patients had a lower chance of experiencing severe long Covid symptoms, or any long-term conditions at all.

As of Tuesday, Hong Kong has registered a total of 1,427,080 Covid-19 infections and 9,580 related deaths.

Correction 2 p.m.: An earlier version of this article erroneously stated that around 20 per cent of children infected during the fifth wave suffered from long Covid, according to one hospital’s findings. In fact, around 20 per cent of children treated for Covid-19 by one doctor at the hospital suffered from long Covid. We regret the error.

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Peter Lee is a reporter for HKFP. He was previously a freelance journalist at Initium, covering political and court news. He holds a Global Communication bachelor degree from CUHK.