A controversial move to force Hong Kong’s more than 370,000 domestic helpers to undergo a compulsory Covid-19 test has been defended by the city’s leader after the plan was denounced as discriminatory by rights activists.

On Tuesday – four days after the compulsory test plan was announced – Hong Kong Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, said all anti-epidemic measures taken by the authorities were based on risk assessment and “no discrimination” was involved. She said mandatory testing had frequently been implemented over the past ten months and it would offer protection to domestic workers and the families they work for.

Carrie Lam
Carrie Lam. Photo: RTHK screenshot.

“All anti-epidemic measures are based on public health and science. It does not involve any discrimination,” Lam told reporters.

The city’s leader said the over 370,000 domestic workers had to undergo mass testing before May 9 amid mutant strain fears because of the nature of their job which involves frequent contact with young children and the elderly.

“Plus our foreign domestic worker friends do have the habit of gathering on the weekends,” she added.

Over the weekend, thousands of domestic workers lined up for hours on their rest day to take a coronavirus test. Lam said the government had tested more than 100,000 domestic workers and those who were vaccinated could be exempt. The tests have not found any new Covid-19 infections.

Foreign domestic worker covid-19 test
Foreign domestic workers wait in line under the sun to get Covid-19 tests.

Rights groups and migrant workers’ coalitions decried the government measure as “racist” and “absurd.” They also accused the authorities as adopting a “double standard,” as the government did not impose a mandatory testing order when handling an earlier Covid-19 outbreak in a gym frequented by white expats in the city.

On Saturday, the Philippines Secretary of Foreign Affairs,Teodoro Locsin, also slammed the Hong Kong government for adopting a policy that “smacks of discrimination.”

“Hong Kong can do better than that,” Locsin wrote on Twitter.

Lam said on Tuesday that she had asked the Labour and Welfare Bureau to review its plan of adding Covid-19 vaccination as a prerequisite for issuing work visas for domestic workers. She said she understood there was a difference between testing and vaccination, adding the the bureau should consult the consulates of countries that export domestic works to the city.

The decision to halt the compulsory vaccination plan was welcomed by migrant workers’ groups, with the Asian Migrants’ Coordinating Body calling is a “victory through collective action.”

The body said they were pleased that Lam “listened to the people,” while another organisation, Mission for Migrant Workers said the government should ensure their future policies are conducted with “scientific analysis, fairness and proper consultation.”

“The persistence to pass policies that unfairly target MDWs only reinforces the false belief in HK society that domestic workers are the most common carriers of the virus,” Mission for Migrant Workers wrote in a statement.

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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.