Carrie Lam puts brakes on HK’s helper vaccine policy amid firestorm of criticism

04-May-2021 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 10:45 AM Print This Post

Hong Kong’s leader has suspended a tough new policy requiring all foreign domestic workers to be vaccinated against Covid-19 before their contracts can be renewed following a diplomatic backlash and accusations of discrimination.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor also said health authorities would review whether residents living in the same block where local Covid-19 cases involving mutated strains were found could shorten their mandatory 21-day quarantine if they had taken both jabs.

Speaking before her weekly Executive Council meeting, Lam said the government would still continue mandatory Covid-19 testing for all domestic workers through May 9.

“We have never done this before, so I have asked the secretary for labour to review the whole policy, such as the rationale and feasibility, and to consult advisers and consulates for the countries where domestic workers primarily come from as to whether compulsory vaccinations can be done, or if it will cause other problems if we proceed,” she said.

“There’s no decided or finalised plan yet,” Lam added, saying the public should look at the matter objectively.

Lam also defended the decision to require compulsory testing for the city’s 370,000 domestic helpers as “risk-based and does not involve racial discrimination”.

“Two of the four cases carrying the mutant virus involved foreign domestic helpers. They have the habit of gathering on Sundays and often have to take care of children or the elderly, so we had to take appropriate measures to prevent possible transmission.”

More than 100,000 workers were tested over the weekend, while several thousand more had been vaccinated, Lam added, saying she was confident all domestic helpers could fulfil the order by the May 9 deadline.

The row over mandatory vaccinations came after authorities on Friday announced plans to require all domestic helpers to get jabbed before contract renewals, a move Secretary for Labour Law Chi-kwong said was not too much to ask as those affected could “choose not to work in Hong Kong”.

In response, Philippine Consul General Raly Tejada on Saturday told the Post the city should not make vaccines mandatory, arguing that if the new rules applied to helpers, it should apply to all non-resident foreign workers. Philippines foreign affairs secretary Teodoro Locsin Jnr, meanwhile, said the move “smacked of discrimination”.

Indonesia joined the Philippines on Monday in appealing for fairer application of coronavirus measures, while a group representing the city’s domestic workers lodged a formal complaint with the Equal Opportunities Commission over the plan.

While the city’s vaccination programme has been conducted on a voluntary basis, Lam said the overall rate of vaccination was improving, but still not satisfactory.

“We will try our very best to encourage the public to get vaccination so we can meet the biggest demand of the public, which is to get out of the pandemic that has lasted more than 15 months,” she said, denying that recent social-distancing changes had been undertaken solely to boost vaccination rates.

The four newly confirmed local Covid-19 cases involving mutated strains since mid-April had been worrying, Lam said, and justified the need for a recent series of tough measures.

The city has recently begun issuing immediate lockdown orders for buildings where preliminary-positive cases involving the new strains were found and sending residents to 21-day quarantine. Family members of some close contacts would also need to do compulsory testing, Lam added.

“More than 1,600 residents were sent to the quarantine centres for 21 days [because of the first three cases]. We fully understand that this creates trouble and inconvenience for the public,” she said.

“I have asked the Centre for Health Protection to reconsider if there can be a relaxation for residents that have taken two doses of Covid-19 vaccine and finished 14 days of quarantine.”

Hong Kong has recorded four local cases involving mutated strains since April 17 – two of which were domestic helpers with health authorities uncovering the missing link between the first three cases on Monday, saying all of the patients had visited a Tung Chung shopping centre.

The fourth case involved a housewife who returned from India about a month ago and tested preliminary-positive for Covid-19 with the N501Y mutation on Monday.

The city’s tally of confirmed infections now stands at 11,786, with 210 related deaths.

More to follow…


Category: Hong Kong

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