Helper inconvenience can't be helped

Editorial | Mary Ma 26 Apr 2021

Any government would have decided likewise if, in a situation similar to that of Hong Kong, it had to choose either to close the border to the Philippines to keep a more transmissible Covid variant out of the territory or to open up the first line of defense to the mutant.

The travel ban will linitially last for two weeks, though it is logical to expect it to be extended if the situation warrants.

Until that time comes, the impact on local families will be limited.

It will be inconvenient for some families that depend on helpers to help out with most daily routines, but they should be able to cope with the inconvenience.

In the end, the immediate issue is not a life-threatening one.

The Covid pandemic has transformed the way people live - so much so that families also may have to start learning to live without the regular assistance of helpers if things intensify in hard-hit regions to affect countries that have been the major suppliers for Hong Kong families.

Although this is hypothetical for now, it remains a possibility.

India's highly contagious double-mutant strain has plunged the nation into a hellish state, with record infections and deaths.

Only two months ago, the Indian health minister was confident they were near the end game in light of low and stable infection statistics.

What is happening in India serves as a strong reminder to everyone that the pandemic can change for the worse overnight.

India, Pakistan and the Philippines are ranked by the SAR as the latest places of "extremely high risk" due to the discovery of mutant strains in multiple arrivals from the three countries.

Local employment agencies estimate that up to 1,800 domestic helpers who had been due to arrive during these two weeks have been left stranded in the Philippines owing to the travel ban.

But that claim was disputed by labor secretary Law Chi-kwong, who came up with his own estimate of a total of 546 helpers being affected. The wide gap between the estimates is not surprising - with each side citing a number that best suits their purpose, the actual number of workers whose trips are being delayed is most likely somewhere between the two.

But does it really matter if the number is 1,800 or 546? The actual number is irrelevant in the present context - it all boils down to inconvenience, and no more than that.

If the pandemic intensifies in south Asia, the travel ban may have to be extended for a longer period.

For some, this would mean more working from home. In addition to teleconferencing on Zoom, it would also mean regular cooking and washing duties.

More crucially, the slow progress in vaccinations is cause for concern that is bound to be complicated further by a research report available at the National Library of Medicine that Pfizer/BioNTech jabs may cause neurodegenerative diseases in the long term.

Timely clarifications by regulators here and elsewhere would help ease the concerns and keep vaccinations on track.

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