Helper cleared as home fight looms

Local | Mary Ann Benitez 20 Feb 2020

A 32-year-old Filipino domestic helper confirmed to be infected with the novel coronavirus has been told by doctors she could be released soon, Philippine consul-general Raly Tejada said yesterday.

Tejada said the consulate had a phone conversation with their stricken national yesterday and "her voice sounded normal and she is in good spirits."

On Tuesday, the consulate sent three officials to the Pamela Youde Nethersole Eastern Hospital in Chai Wan to visit the woman, who has become a cause celebre after employers' groups said domestic workers should stay home on their day-off due to the outbreak.

But the 32-year-old was "presumably infected" at home by her 67-year-old employer, who was earlier confirmed to be stricken on February 13, the Centre for Health Protection said Tuesday.

The helper had a fever and cough since February 2 but her symptoms subsided after self-medication.

She was only sent to Pamela Youde during the CHP's "epidemiological investigation" on February 14.

The chairwoman of the Hong Kong Employers of Overseas Domestic Helpers Association, Betty Yung Ma Shan-yee, said the case had caused families to be scared of letting their helpers go out on their days off.

Tejada said the consulate understood the employers' concerns but "the final decision rests with the domestic worker."

Eman Villanueva, spokesman of Asian Migrants Coordinating Body, pointed out that all domestic workers who had been quarantined were considered close contacts of their infected employers. “It is the other way around, the virus did not come from our fellow migrant workers,” he said.

A labor department spokesman told The Standard: "The labor department issued an appeal on January 30 to encourage foreign domestic helpers to stay home for rest on their rest day as far as possible and to stay away from crowds on public transport or at public places.

"We appeal for mutual understanding between employers and FDHs in discussing work and rest day arrangements."

Meanwhile, the Philippines' lifting of the outbound travel ban to Hong Kong is creating another dilemma.

Daniel Wong Wai-tung, managing director of MySweet Home Employment Agency, said that the problem at present is not having enough flights, adding his company has around 200 workers waiting for flights.

Migrante International chairwoman Joanna Concepcion also questioned the need for returning Filipino workers to sign a "written declaration" to state that "they know the risk of going back to their places of work.

"This 'written declaration' is nothing but the government's euphemism for its issuance of waiver forms intended to transgress the rights and welfare of [workers] needing government protection," Concepcion said.

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