A domestic worker and her three-month-old baby waited overnight outside a hospital after testing positive for Covid-19, the latest incident to expose the plight of Hong Kong’s migrant workers amid the growing outbreak.

Bethune House, a migrant workers’ charity, said that a domestic worker and her baby – who had been staying at a shelter run by the organisation – were taken to Queen Elizabeth Hospital in an ambulance after returning positive results from rapid antigen tests on Tuesday evening.

Anika (a pseudonym), a domestic worker, waits outside Queen Elizabeth Hospital with her three-month-old baby. Photo: Bethune House via Facebook.

The woman, who goes by the pseudonym Anika, had developed a fever and a cough. Her infant was also feeling unwell.

But the hospital told them they could not wait inside, Edwina Antonio-Santoyo, executive director at Bethune House, told HKFP. Anika and her three-month-old ended up spending the night outside the hospital, where she slept on a chair in a covered area.

The Accident and Emergency Department at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Yau Ma Tei. Photo: GovHK.

“There were also other preliminary-positive patients there,” Antonio-Santoyo said. “Maybe the hospital did not consider that it was cold.”

The temperature dipped below 10 degrees Celsius on Tuesday, and there were also bouts of rain.

Antonio-Santoyo said volunteers brought Anika and her baby supplies, including warm clothes and food, the next morning.

Anika (pseudonym) and her baby slept on a plastic chair outside the hospital. Photo: Bethune House via Facebook.

They were finally allowed into hospital at around 11:20 am, Antonio-Santoyo said, and given a ticket for the queue. Five hours later, Anika and her baby were issued medicine, and hospital staff administered swab tests.

“We called an ambulance yesterday because we were worried after a baby passed on the other day,” Antonio-Santoyo said, referring to an 11-month-old who died on Sunday after contracting Covid-19. “It’s not that serious yet, but wanted to make sure that their health condition is monitored in the hospital.”

HKFP has reached out to the Hospital Authority for comment.

‘Where will they go?’

Foreign domestic workers have been particularly affected by the city’s worsening fifth wave, which has seen four-digit cases daily for two weeks and rising numbers of related fatalities.

Six officers approach two domestic workers to remind them of the group gathering limit of two people. Photo: GovHK.

Over the past week, NGOs have been fielding numerous calls from domestic workers seeking help after testing positive for Covid-19. Many of the cases involve those who had finished or terminated their contracts, and tested positive before departing Hong Kong, meaning they were unable to fly out.

As the city’s controversial live-in rule requires domestic workers to legally stay with employers, they do not have a place of their own. Without jobs, they have nowhere to call home, and nowhere to self-isolate.

Bethune House, a charity that provides shelter for domestic workers who faced abuse from former employers. Photo: Bethune House via Facebook.

In recent days, a number of NGOs have set up campaigns to support domestic workers affected by Covid-19. Since launching their campaign last Thursday, Help for Domestic Workers has raised around HK$1.25 million. The organisation said the money would go towards providing accommodation for domestic workers left homeless, as well as legal and financial support.

Help for Domestic Workers said on Tuesday that they had received more than 60 calls from domestic workers who had been made homeless since last Wednesday.

Help for Domestic Workers has raised around HK$1.25 million in less than a week. Photo: Help for Domestic Workers.

Anika and her baby had been living at Bethune House since last June. The shelter takes in migrant workers who faced abuse from ex-employers, some of whom have ongoing lawsuits and Labour Department cases.

“The government said there are 30,000 Covid patients waiting to be sent to quarantine,” Antonio-Santayo said, referring to a figure stated by Chief Executive Carrie Lam during a press conference on Tuesday. “But these 30,000 have homes. Migrant workers do not have homes. If they are kicked out of their house, where will they go?”

Calls for help

In a Facebook post on Sunday, Help for Domestic Workers said it “expects access to government isolation facilities for domestic workers, including quarantine hotels, to be available” within the next two days.

HKFP has reached out to the organisation, and the Center for Health Protection, to clarify if such plans are underway.

The Hong Kong Jockey Club Shau Kei Wan clinic has been converted to a designated Covid-19 facility as the city struggles to battle the fifth wave of the pandemic. Photo: Ben Marans/HKFP.

The government is converting a number of hotels under the Community Isolation Facility (CIF) Hotel Scheme to accomodate Covid-19 patients with mild or no symptoms.

In the meantime, Help for Domestic Workers, Mission for Migrant Workers and other NGOs are continuing to coordinate volunteer efforts and settle displaced migrant workers.

“We hope the government will do something about it. It’s not just this mother and child, it could be many who will be suffering from this kind of condition,” Antonio-Santoyo said.

Hong Kong has recorded 75,248 Covid-19 cases and at least 374 related deaths since the pandemic began.

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Hillary Leung

Hillary has an interest in social issues and politics. Previously, she reported on Asia broadly - including on Hong Kong's 2019 protests - for TIME Magazine and covered local news at Coconuts Hong Kong.