Lam softens stand on mandatory jabs for helpers

Top News | Jane Cheung 5 May 2021

Hong Kong is backpedaling a mandatory vaccination plan for domestic helpers as Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor orders a review and consultation with foreign consulates.

Lam also asked the Centre for Health Protection to evaluate if people who are fully inoculated can receive preferential treatment when it comes to quarantining after The Standard exclusively reported yesterday about its quarantine policy that is said to discourage vaccination.

Lam said she ordered the Labour and Welfare Bureau to reevaluate the reasonableness and feasibility of compulsory vaccination when helpers renew their contracts.

Her comments came four days after Secretary for Labour and Welfare Law Chi-kwong announced that helpers should get vaccinated when they renew their work visa for a new contract term, which attracted strong-worded criticisms from the Philippines.

Extending an olive branch, Lam said she understood making helpers undergo mandatory tests is much different from requiring them to get inoculated.

The bureau should consult the consulates of countries where the helpers come from and also address concerns raised by employers, she added.

Lam said the plan is not finalized, adding announcements will come after decisions have been made.

"This [making vaccination a requirement] is something we have never done before," she said. "Is it feasible? If yes, will it bring many problems? There are two sides to the coin."

She defended mandatory testing for all 370,000 helpers by this Sunday after two helpers were confirmed with a Covid-19 variant strain. Lam added: "No discrimination is involved. There is no differential treatment based on race, language or social status. We base our measures on risk assessment.

"Domestic helpers have a habit of gathering on Sunday and their job nature involves close contact with people, looking after young children and elderly people."

Lam also responded to concerns that Hong Kong's quarantine measures are discouraging for vaccination. Currently, those who are fully vaccinated have to be quarantined for the same number of days as those who are not inoculated.

Lam said the government has adopted more stringent measures to stop the more infectious mutant strains from spreading in communities, including sending all residents who live in the same block as confirmed cases to 21-day quarantine - regardless of their vaccination status.

But Lam said she has asked health authorities to "carefully study" whether they can adjust the policies for those who have completed both jabs for more than 14 days.

Philippine consul general Raly Tejada thanked Lam and Hong Kong authorities for their "understanding and magnanimity" in reconsidering compulsory jabs for helpers.

"We stand ready to work and engage with the government and other concerned consulates general in constructive dialogue on this important issue," he said.

The Indonesian consulate said it is ready for a discussion to "make sure that measures are carried out in a fair and non-discriminatory manner."

Hong Kong Employers of Overseas Domestic Helpers' Association chairwoman Betty Yung Ma Shan-yee applauded Lam's move. She also said she understood why some older helpers or those with health problems are unwilling to receive the jabs.

Philippine foreign minister Teddy Locsin Jr - who once tweeted: "Are you losing your minds?" after the government announced compulsory vaccination for helpers - was quick to heap praise on Lam.

"I am so proud to know Carrie Lam. Her responses are always quick yet wise. Hong Kong's best leader since China lost the island in the Opium War. Thank you, ma'am," he tweeted yesterday.

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May 2021

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