Restaurants and clinics that refuse to serve people testing positive for Covid-19 could breach Hong Kong’s anti-discrimination law, the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) has said.
Speaking on an RTHK radio show on Thursday morning, EOC chairperson Ricky Chu said the Disability Discrimination Ordinance protects people with infectious diseases.
On Monday, Hong Kong stopped issuing isolation orders for Covid-19 patients, a relaxation made after considering the level of hybrid immunity in the society, authorities said.
Chu’s comments were made amid reports that some restaurants and clinics have turned away people with Covid-19.
“If [those businesses] reject Covid-19 patients, it could be an offence,” he said. “In reality, under the relaxed rules, there is also the question of how it can be determined that one is Covid-positive.”
‘Necessary and rational’
A Covid-19 infection falls under the definition of disability in the Disability Discrimination Ordinance, according to the EOC. While the law maintains exceptions when the discriminatory act is needed to protect public health, “blanket application” of such exceptions could be an offence.
Asked if restaurants imposing conditions for Covid patients – such that they can only sit in a particular part of the premises, or can only order takeaway – would violate the ordinance, Chu said it would need to be assessed whether this different treatment was considered inferior.
“[Does the business have] a necessary and rational reason? That is where the line would be drawn,” he said.
Restaurants saying they need to protect their staff and customers could be considered “reasonable,” Chu added, but whether that is “rational” would need to be deliberated.
“Restaurants can have other anti-epidemic measures, such as staff being vaccinated against Covid-19, wearing masks while working… and [good] ventilation,” he said.
The watchdog chief said it was not acceptable for clinics to reject Covid-19 patients on the basis that they do not have coronavirus medication, since patients with mild symptoms could be treated with medicine not specific to Covid.
If clinics charge Covid-19 patients more than other patients, Chu said, it would need to be seen if this was due to practical reasons such as differences in cost.
Hong Kong has relaxed most of its Covid-19 measures in recent weeks, including a cap on group gatherings and the need to scan a mobile app before entering restaurants and other premises.
A mask mandate in all public places, including outdoors, is still in place, although Chief Executive John Lee said on Tuesday he would consider scrapping it after the winter flu season.
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