HK to review mandatory vaccine policy for foreign helpers amid discrimination concerns

The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) has suspended its new measure requiring all foreign domestic helpers to get vaccinated against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) before their contracts can be renewed following discrimination concerns.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam speaks during a press conference at the government headquarters in Hong Kong on July 31, 2020. - Hong Kong's leader on July 31 said local elections planned for September would be postponed because coronavirus cases have surged in the international finance hub, a move that will infuriate democracy supporters. (Photo by Anthony WALLACE / AFP)
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam (Photo by Anthony WALLACE / AFP / MANILA BULLETIN)

In a South China Morning Post report on Tuesday, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said health authorities are now reviewing whether to make COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for foreign domestic helpers.

Officials will decide whether residents who live in the same block where local coronavirus cases involving mutated strains were found could shorten their mandatory 21-day quarantine, she added.

Lam said the government is still planning to complete its mandatory COVID-19 testing program for all domestic helpers by May 9.

“We have never done before, so I have asked the secretary for labor 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,” Lam said in the SCMP report.

“There’s no decided or finalized plan yet,” she added.

The mandatory testing came after two domestic workers from the Philippines were found to be infected with mutated strains of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) virus.

The Chief Executive also defended the plan to require mandatory testing for all 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," she stressed.

Over 100,000 workers were tested over the weekend, while several thousands more had been vaccinated, Lam added.

Hong Kong labor secretary Law Chi-kwong had earlier said the plan to make the vaccination a work visa requirement was not too much to ask. "Of course, they can choose not to work in Hong Kong as they are not Hong Kong residents."

Philippine Consul General Raly Tejada on Sunday told SCMP if vaccination becomes a requirement for work in the city, then it should apply to all foreign workers so that it will be "non-discriminatory".

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr., meanwhile, said that Hong Kong’s plan to inoculate only domestic workers is something that “smacks of discrimination.”