Domestic worker activists have slammed as “stigmatising” a government order that all of Hong Kong’s 370,000-odd foreign domestic workers undergo compulsory coronavirus tests by next Sunday after a single worker was diagnosed with two mutant strains.

The controversial move by officials came on Friday after a 39-year-old foreign domestic worker was confirmed to be carrying the coronavirus N501Y and E484K mutations on Thursday.

Law enforcement personnel distribute leaflets on coronavirus to domestic workers. Photo: GovHK.

The patient did not have any recent travel history, meaning the mutant strain was transmitted locally. The origin of the infection is still unclear.

On Friday, the Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan said that, as a result of the discovery, all migrant domestic workers in the city will have to complete coronavirus tests by May 9. Domestic workers who have received two doses of coronavirus vaccines more than 14 days ago are exempt from the compulsory testing order, she added.

Foreign domestic workers are also required to receive coronavirus vaccine jabs as part of the requirement of their visa applications when they renew their contracts.

“Considering they [foreign domestic workers] often have gatherings with their friends during their days off, if they are infected, it’s highly possible that it will lead to cross-transmission across families,” Secretary for Labour and Welfare Law Chi-kwong claimed.

“That’s why from the perspective of anti-epidemic, foreign domestic workers are a high-risk group.”

Hong Kong reported four coronavirus infections on Friday, two were locally transmitted cases, of which one was of unknown origin.

Photo: GovHK.

Following the diagnosis of the locally-transmitted case with mutant coronavirus strains, the government imposed a 21-day compulsory quarantine around 400 households in the building where the patient lives, Tower 11 of Carmel Cove in Tung Chung.

Visitors who went to five places that the patient had visited have also been put under the compulsory testing order, they have to complete a coronavirus test by Sunday.

Places put under the compulsory testing order on Thursday – click to view.

  • Fu Tung Plaza (including Fu Tung Market), 6 Fu Tung Street, Tung Chung from April 9 to April 29
  • St. Thomas the Apostle Church, 5 Tsing Luk Street, Tsing Yi on April 11 or 18
  • Man Tung Road Park, 55 Man Tung Road, Tung Chung on April 11, 18, or 25
  • Fusion, Shop 22-23, 1/F, Caribbean Bazaar, 1 Kin Tung Road, Tung Chung on April 12 or 16
  • Citygate shopping mall, 18-20 Tat Tung Road and 41 Man Tung Road, Tung Chung on April 25

‘Stop stigmatising and discriminating’

However, domestic worker activists have described the government’s plan as “stigmatising and discriminating”, adding that the city’s hundreds of thousands of foreign domestic helpers have already been hit hard by coronavirus restrictions.

“One person infected with a variant of Covid-19 does not mean that everyone is infected and will spread it,” activist Sringatin told HKFP.

“Stop stigmatising and discriminating against migrant workers. During the pandemic, migrant domestic workers suffered greatly, were prohibited from taking holidays outside the home, on holidays they were accused of spreading the virus, were intimidated and discriminated against and were not given any assistance during the pandemic,” she said.

Another migrant domestic worker activist, Eni Lestari, has also hit out at the government’s latest requirements as “unfair and disheartening.”

“This decision shows that Hong Kong government unfairly blames migrant domestic workers for the spread of coronavirus and is fanning the negative sentiment against migrant domestic workers,” Lestari told HKFP. “This must be stopped and corrected.”

“…even many employers choose not to be vaccinated for personal, medical, or political reasons, and thus their migrant domestic workers are also not required to be vaccinated. Why is the Hong Kong government forcing migrant domestic workers? If vaccination is mandatory then it should be applied to all people in Hong Kong and should be required by all job applications,” Lestari said.

Eni Lestari, chairperson of the International Migrants Alliance. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

Lestari has also urged foreign domestic workers to “strictly follow social distancing measures and health protocols” and “avoid large crowds and sharing of food and maintain personal hygiene”.

The activist added that foreign domestic workers should report “any act of discrimination or forms of unfair treatment as a result of the government’s announcement”.

Nepal flight ban

The government has also banned all flights from Nepal from Saturday for 14 days after at least five confirmed cases imported from Nepal were carrying the N501Y mutant coronavirus strain. A ban on flights from India, Pakistan, and the Philippines has also been extended.

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Candice Chau

Candice is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously worked as a researcher at a local think tank. She has a BSocSc in Politics and International Relations from the University of Manchester and a MSc in International Political Economy from London School of Economics.