Centralized quarantine call as helpers set to return

Top News | Jane Cheung 15 Jun 2020

Foreign domestic workers should be quarantined in centralized facilities when up to 10,000 of them arrive in the next three months, the Hong Kong Union of Employment Agencies says.

The Philippines resumed processing of helpers' applications for Hong Kong earlier this month, while Indonesia is planning to do the same soon.

However, many households are not prepared to quarantine the workers in their homes, the union of 100 agencies said yesterday.

Its chairman, Chan Tung-fung, said employers of domestic helpers are worried about being infected if they have to live with a home-quarantined person for two weeks, as the coronavirus has an incubation period of 14 days and some Covid-19 patients are asymptomatic.

He cited a survey of 3,000 employers last week, which found 85 percent of them said they did not have separate bathrooms and rooms for their helpers to use during the home quarantine.

This was contrary to the Centre for Health Protection's advice for a person under home isolation to stay in a separate room and avoid sharing toilets with household members.

Chan claimed up to 95 percent of respondents are reluctant to share the same flat with a stranger under quarantine as at least 200,000 employers hire helpers to take care of the elderly, children or babies, all of whom are more vulnerable to the infection, he said.

Vice-chairman Yeung Chung-wai said some employers book hotels for their newly arrived helpers during quarantine but many hotels are full already.

"There aren't that many new helpers arriving in Hong Kong now, but it's already difficult to book hotel rooms," he said. "The situation will become worse in several months when more helpers report for their duties.

"Hotels are the only choice because most helper dormitories put five to 10 people in the same room, which makes it not suitable for quarantine purposes."

He said the employers are willing to pay HK$1,500 to HK$2,000 for a helper's quarantine expenses, but the amount can go up to HK$3,000 to HK$5,000, including hotel charges, which is a great burden to some employers.

Chan urged the government to provide centralized quarantine for newly arrived helpers at the government's isolation camps in rural areas and to run Covid-19 tests on them before the end of the 14-day quarantine period.

"Many families have been waiting for new helpers for months. Some desperate employers had to take no-pay leave from work to take care of their children," he said.

"But the government can do more to support these families. That way, they can have new helpers sooner while making sure a new wave of outbreaks will not emerge from their arrivals."

Under the quarantine policy, all arrivals at Hong Kong International Airport are sent to AsiaWorld-Expo for Covid-19 tests of their deep throat saliva samples.

Those arriving in the morning need to wait at the Expo as test results come out on the same day. They are allowed to go home to begin the 14-day quarantine if they test negative for the virus.

Those arriving in the afternoon, evening and at night stay at the Regal Oriental Hotel in Kowloon City overnight as test results are ready the next day.

The government's official website on the SAR's Covid-19 situation says arrivals from some countries with low Covid-19 testing rates such as Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Nepal and South Africa are sent to government isolation camps for quarantine.

"Since the testing rates per capita are relatively low in these areas, the epidemic situation may not be reflected in their published case figures, and the Department of Health will adopt a prudent approach for these returnees," it said.

Under a temporary travel restriction adopted in February, Filipinos are not allowed to travel to or transit through Hong Kong, Macau or the mainland, but the country has recently relaxed its policy and allows Filipinos studying and working to come to the two SARs.

As of yesterday, the Philippines had recorded 25,930 Covid-19 patients, including 1,088 deaths.

Indonesia, which suspended export of workers in mid-March, had 38,277 cases, including 2,134 deaths, by yesterday.


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