MANILA — Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Sec. Teodoro Locsin Jr. thanked Hong Kong Executive Chief Carrie Lam following her decision to ask the Labor Minister to review the plan of making COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for 370,000 domestic helpers from the Philippines and Indonesia.
“I am so proud to know Carrie Lam. Her responses are always quick yet wise. Hong Kong’s best leader since China lost the island in the Opium War. Thank you, Ma’am,” Locsin said in a tweet.
In a report by the South China Morning Post, Locsin’s initial furious remarks following the policy’s announcement coincided with protests from the Indonesian and Philippine consulates and concerned groups complaining of discrimination.
According to the report, sources claim that the policy to vaccinate almost 400,000 domestic workers against COVID-19 before renewing their contracts was made hastily and rushed into enforcement.
The policy was triggered by the positive test results of two helpers in Hong Kong carrying more infectious COVID-19 variants last month, with officials from the Food and Health Bureau and the Labor and Welfare Bureau rushing to come up with plans to prevent community transmissions without consulting the Exco or the government’s expert group of pandemic advisers.
Officials also argued that domestic helpers were deemed “high risk” because they came from overseas, “often gather outdoors in large numbers on Sunday” or during their one day off in the week and tend to take care of elderly and vulnerable people.
On April 30, officials announced the policy that includes tough measures of mandatory tests for all domestic helpers by May 9 and requiring them to be vaccinated before their contracts could be renewed.
“At that point, most discussions were made between the two bureaus,” a government source told the Post.
“Honestly, the decisions were based on health perspectives, without any political considerations or assessment that they might be potentially discriminatory. Given that mandatory vaccinations would be adopted for travel bubble plans anyway, we thought there should be no problem applying the same to specific high-risk groups.”
Another anonymous source told the South China Morning Post that there could have been a more comprehensive review of the policy “if officials had a few more days to consult others.”
“We were told that the top priority was to get domestic workers to use their days off over the weekend to get tested,” the source said.
Another source said that the Labor Bureau is discussing the plan with the consulates of Indonesia and the Philippines, noting that “one possibility is that it will only require vaccinations for new helpers arriving from foreign countries including the Philippines and Indonesia.”
FILIPINOS SINGLED OUT
In another report by ABS-CBN News and Agence France Presse, Malacañang through presidential spokesman Harry Roque, earlier urged Hong Kong to “refrain from singling out Filipinos” over its policy to make COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for Filipino and Indonesian domestic helpers.
“Sana po huwag i-single out ang ating mga OFWs, bagama’t we recognize iyong sovereign prerogative na i-require ang bakuna,” Roque said, noting that the equal protection applies both under the Philippine Bill of rights and the international covenant in civil and political rights covering Hong Kong.
Meanwhile, several labor groups have also expressed opposition to the now under review policy.
“This is clearly an act of discrimination and stigmatization against migrant domestic workers,” United Filipinos in Hong Kong chair Dolores Balladares Pelaez said, with labor groups angered by the fact that other foreigners and locals working in care homes and other related environments were not required to get vaccinated.
“Again, we are being singled out and targeted,” Pelaez added.
Hong Kong Labor Sec. Law Chi-kwong, on the other hand, defended linking domestic worker visas to vaccination.
“Of course, they can choose not to work in Hong Kong as they are not Hong Kong residents,” Law said.
International Migrants Alliance chair Eni Lestari described Law’s comments as “unfair and shocking.”
“A lot of employers also do not get vaccinated because of health, personal or even political reasons, so they won’t force their workers to be vaccinated,” Lestari told Agence France Presse.