Hong Kong leading microbiologist Ho Pak-leung has urged the government to conduct mass coronavirus testing for foreign domestic workers who live in dormitories on Thursday.

This came a day after local health authorities revealed an infected Indonesian helper had lived with more than 30 other helpers at two employment agency premises during her incubation period. She was the first foreign domestic worker to have contracted the virus from an unknown source in the city, according to health authorities.

Domestic workers gathering in central on Sunday May 31, 2020. Photo: May James/HKFP.

The Centre for Health Protection (CHP) said on Thursday it would arrange for 13 domestic workers who stayed in North Point’s Sunlight Employment Agency alongside the patient to receive deep throat saliva tests.

At the KL Home Care in Wan Chai, where the patient resided from July 21 to 25, only one out of the 28 helpers had moved into their new employer’s home, while the others remained in the dormitory.

Speaking on RTHK’s Millennium, Ho said the situation was worrying as the living areas in dormitories were often crowded. The government should treat the case as a cluster and test more than 6,000 foreign domestic workers in dormitories across the city, he said.

“Based on Hong Kong’s current testing capability, it should be able to finish testing 6,000 to 7,000 samples in a day… while waiting for the results, people should not leave the dorms,” Ho said.

Ho Pak-leung on RTHK. Photo: RTHK screenshot.

He added the government should be prepared to activate their reserved quarantine facilities in case any helpers tested positive for the virus: “If there is one case with a positive result at the dorm, you cannot do quarantine onsite.”

On Thursday, Hong Kong saw 95 new coronavirus cases, pushing the city’s total number of infections to 3,849. Among the new patients, 52 were linked to previous local cases, while the source of 39 cases remained unknown. Another foreign domestic worker was tested positive, who shared a living space with at least four helpers at Sheung Wan’s Apik Employment Agency last month.

An 85-year-old man, who was confirmed to have the Covid-19 last Tuesday, passed away in the afternoon, pushing the city’s death toll to 44.

Immigration Tower. Photo: HKFP/Ellie Ng.

Responding to fears over a possible cluster among foreign domestic workers, Kitman Cheung, chairman of the Hong Kong Employment Agencies Association, told Commercial Radio on Thursday that the Immigration Department should expedite visa reviews.

He estimated there could have been several thousand domestic workers who had stayed in Hong Kong dorms while waiting for new work visas. During the pandemic, the waiting time had been extended to around two months, he said, which increased the number of domestic workers stranded in employment agencies’ crowded communal living spaces.

“We know the helpers [staying in the dorms] have doubled,” Cheung said.

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Kelly Ho

Kelly Ho has an interest in local politics, education and sports. She formerly worked at South China Morning Post Young Post, where she specialised in reporting on issues related to Hong Kong youth. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration.