HK migrant group urges clear guidelines amid 2019-nCoV spread

Jan Yumul, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 28 2020 05:24 PM | Updated as of Jan 29 2020 12:52 PM

Domestic workers gather along Chater Road on the Second Day of the Lunar New Year celebrations in Hong Kong. Jan Yumul, ABS-CBN News

HONG KONG - Migrant support group Mission for Migrant Workers (MFMW) on Tuesday called on the Hong Kong government to provide clear labor guidelines and health precautionary measures for the city's estimated 300,000 foreign domestic workers, after a Filipino domestic helper was quarantined for coming into close contact with 2 people who later tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

Cynthia Abdon, the group's manager, expressed concern on the plight of foreign household helpers who, as mandated by a law in effect since 2003, live with their employers.

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"Iyan ba ay ire-recognize ng employer na official sa Labor Department? Nililinaw ba nila... halimbawa connected sa official hospital or health department policy...na i-quarantine ang mga nasa ganitong kalagayan? Ang kanila bang mga trabaho o ang mga sahod nila sa mga araw na sila ay naka-quarantine ay official pa rin ba na dapat nilang matanggap? Dapat. Kasi hindi naman sila ang may cause ng pangyayaring 'yon," Abdon told ABS-CBN News.

(Will this case be officially recognized by her employer to be in line with the Labor Department? They want to clarify, for example, with those connected with the official hospital or health department policy, whether those in that kind of condition need to be quarantined? Will they continue to receive salary for the days they are on quarantine? Well, they should, because they didn't cause the situation they are in.)

Abdon said they also received reports domestic workers who spend time outside are told to hurry home, including on their rest days, amid fears of the 2019-nCoV spread. 

"Kaya 'pag nasa loob ka ng bahay (ng employer mo), alangan naman... sabi nila doon ka lang sa loob ng kuwarto mo kung may kuwarto ka man. Paano na 'yong sa mga wala rin kuwarto. Hindi puwede. Mahihiya ka rin kahit paano na hindi ka mag trabaho... kahit day-off mo, kahit holiday," said Abdon.

(When you are at your employer's home, they could tell you to just stay inside your room. That is if you have your own room. But what about those without their own room? ... Somehow, you feel ashamed if you do not do some chores, even if it's your rest day, or it's a holiday.)

Abdon urged consulates of migrants-sending countries to coordinate with the host government in disseminating proper and similar information, "in a language friendly to migrants," saying that migrant domestic workers "are part of the Hong Kong community."

"Meaning, of course 'yong language ng migrant domestic workers in Bahasa Indonesia, Tagalog, Sri Lankan, ano man 'yan. At the very least, dapat may English. Kasi ngayon, halimbawa, meron kaming Chinese staff. So, nakukuha namin 'yong mga information sa mga Chinese newspapers o Chinese information na pinapakalat nila sa kaniya lang. Pa'no po 'yong mga walang access?" said Abdon.

(Meaning, of course, such languages of migrant domestic workers as Bahasa Indonesia, Tagalog, Sri Lankan, or whatever it is. At the very least, there should be English. Because right now, we have a Chinese staff. So, we get information from Chinese newspapers or information in Chinese that they are sharing. But how about the rest who do not have access?)

The MFMW complained about confusing instructions on the proper wearing and use of face masks, say, if one is in a closed building.

"Dapat ka bang mag-mask? Hindi ka ba dapat mag-mask? Gaano mo kalimit papalitan ang mask? Pati yan issue 'yan, 'di ba? So ang mahalaga lang, 'wag ma-curtail 'yong right ng ating migrant domestic workers na sa panahon na ganito, pati ang employers ay nagpa-panic na rin, sapagkat hindi malinaw ang mga opisyal na directives ng government," said Abdon.

(Should you wear a mask? Should you not wear a mask? How often should you change masks? It's important that our domestic workers' rights will not be curtailed in times like this, because even employers are already panicking because official directives from the government are not clear.)

The Filipino domestic worker in quarantine had been exposed to an elderly couple who tested positive for the novel coronavirus after arriving in Hong Kong from Wuhan by high-speed rail on Jan. 22. They developed fever and were admitted to Prince of Wales Hospital in Shatin on January 23.

The couple had been staying with their daughter and the domestic helper at Lake Silver Estate in Ma On Shan.

The helper showed no symptoms, but has to be quarantined for 14 days from Jan. 23. Health officials stressed she was not a patient, but a confinee.

Dr. Chuang Shuk-kwan, head of the communicable disease branch of the Center for Health Protection of the Department of Health answers questions from ABS-CBN News during a press conference on Jan. 27, 2019. Jan Yumul, ABS-CBN News

At a press conference by the Department of Health and Hospital Authority on Monday, Dr. Chuang Shuk-kwan, head of the communicable disease branch of the Center for Health Protection of the Department of Health, confirmed that the Filipino remained asymptomatic, adding she had been quarantined "just like other local residents" who are quarantined in the camp.

"All asymptomatic confinees will not be tested because, even if you test, it is negative; it won't be positive usually. So... they are checking the symptoms, they are checking their temperatures and symptoms daily. We have a 24-hour medical post in the camp... Whenever they have symptoms, they will be checked. And then, they will be sent to the hospital for testing and isolation. So, if they are asymptomatic, there is no point to test them," Dr. Chuang told ABS-CBN News.

Most offices and businesses in Hong Kong remain closed in observance of the Lunar New Year holidays. In November last year, announcements were made to scrap the annual Lunar New Year parade and the New Year's Eve fireworks display over fears of protest.

A 4-day carnival for the Chinese New Year celebrations was supposed to take place instead, but had been dropped as well in light of the spread of the 2019-nCoV.

As of noontime Tuesday, most government facilities are closed, while others are on special working arrangements. The closures are stretching up to the first week of February, and even the week after for some.

As of Jan. 27, the Center for Health Protection of Hong Kong's Department of Health is monitoring eight imported cases.

The Hospital Authority said 110 patients are under isolation, of whom, 104 are in stable condition.

The public is continuously reminded to strictly maintain personal, food and environmental hygiene.