HONG KONG — Bishop Stephen Chow Sau-yan of Hong Kong has asked the government to provide more options for isolated elderly people at shelters and hospitals, as the COVID-19 pandemic rages in the city.

“The government policies protect them with physical isolation. Still, their mental and psychological well-being has deteriorated significantly as they have been isolated from their loved ones for the last two years,” Chow said in his Lenten message, issued Feb. 27.

Ucanews.com reported that after the highly transmissible omicron variant affected health care facilities and proved hard to control, Hong Kong reported a record 26,026 infections with 83 deaths Feb. 27. More than 67 deaths were reported at nursing homes.

Chow said many elderly Hong Kong residents have not been vaccinated against COVID-19, ucanews.com reported. He said they have become jobless and are dying without being accompanied by loved ones. He urged Catholics to encourage older people to get vaccinated and follow good hygiene practices, including proper use of masks and sanitizers.

“Besides the government, we have to render them the essential protection, assistance and hope,” the bishop said in the letter to the city’s 400,000 Catholics.

Following the mainland with a “dynamic zero-COVID” strategy, the administration in the Hong Kong Special Autonomous Region has imposed stringent restrictions to cope with the spike in infections.

Authorities said they would come out with a rapid testing plan that would allow people to test from home. Hong Kong Health Secretary Sophia Chan said about 1.3 million rapid testing kits would be made available in high-risk areas in the city of 7.4 million.

“Due to the government’s new measures to curtail social interactions, the diocese temporary closed all churches and chapels for public worship. The authorities have banned even conducting online Mass at churches. Regrettably, this was our first time to adopt such a stringent approach,” the bishop said.

Chow said his “heart was heavy” when he announced the closure of churches Feb. 8.

“I could feel the disappointment of Catholics because of their inability to pray in the soothing tranquility of their churches during such a worrisome time,” he said.

“I could also feel the mounting anxiety with a deepening sense of helplessness in the people around me. When would this come to an end? When could we reclaim our ‘normal’ lives back, if ever?” Chow continued.

“There is a temptation to blame God for not helping to stop the pandemic,” he said. “This should be resisted to prevent ourselves from despair. We do not know when this pandemic will be over. Nevertheless, we can do our best to do good and introduce the love of God to more sectors in Hong Kong.”