MANILA (UPDATE)—A philanthropist has pledged P2 million in humanitarian assistance for the immediate repatriation of overseas Filipino workers in Hong Kong as the city-state battles a surge in COVID-19 cases.
Dr. James Dy, president and CEO of Chinese General Hospital and Medical Center, said he offered to help charter a plane for OFWs who caught the respiratory illness.
"I called up [Labor] Secretary [Silvestre] Bello and offer our assistance na we would donate P2 million for the charter plane from Hong Kong to Manila," he told TeleRadyo Thursday.
He initially thought of sending doctors, nurses and medicines to treat sick OFWs but there was no available flight to Hong Kong.
Dy said his team would also look after repatriated OFWs who will be on quarantine in isolation facilities.
However, he has learned that many OFWs refused to go home due to loss of employment.
"As of now, ayaw nilang umuwi dahil pag-uwi nila, 'pag galing na, wala silang trabaho. Paano 'yung kabuhayan nila?" Dy said.
"However, our offer still stands if they want to come home. Our labor attaché in Hong Kong will help them find a charter plane to fly them home to Manila," he added.
290 COVID CASES
The number of Filipinos in Hong Kong who tested positive for COVID-19 has increased to 290, Consul General to Hong Kong Raly Tejada said Thursday.
"Nadagdagan pero hindi naman ganun karami," he also told TeleRadyo.
Tejada assured that the sick migrant workers had received medical assistance. This, after the Hong Kong government set up more isolation centers to contain the latest outbreak.
"Nabibigyan na po natin sila ng tulong. Karamihan ay nailalagay sa isolation center," he said.
Despite the COVID-19 surge in Hong Kong, most OFWs opted to stay, Tejada said.
"Wala namang pong willing umuwi po right now sapagkat gusto po nilang magtrabaho at magpatuloy na magtrabaho rito sa Hong Kong," he said.
The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government has reminded employers of OFWs, mostly domestic helpers, of their legal obligations to take care of their employees even if they are stricken with the virus.
Despite 2 years of hard-won breathing room thanks to following the mainland's zero-COVID strategy, Hong Kong is now in the throes of its worst-ever coronavirus outbreak fueled by the extremely contagious omicron variant.
It has recorded more than half a million cases since the omicron-fueled fifth wave kicked off in 2022, exponentially outstripping the total number of 12,000 infections the city saw in the pandemic's first 2 years.
It also now has one of the world's highest fatality rates in the developed world, the majority of deaths among its vaccine-hesitant elderly.
Elderly care homes have been particularly hard-hit, as staff are downed with the virus, and COVID-positive patients are pushed away from overcrowded hospital wards.
A University of Hong Kong survey estimated that about 1.8 million residents have been infected so far, about 1 in 4 of the population.
—With a report from Agence France-Presse