By Chloe Lo and Felix Tam
Hong Kong is reviewing a decision to make COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for foreign domestic workers after the decision set off a wave of criticism in the Asian financial hub.
Although officials have been concerned about several local cases involving virus variants, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said they were currently reexamining the policy after complaints.
“It is something we have not done before,” Lam told reporters on Tuesday. “So after listening to voices in the society, I have requested the Labour and Welfare Bureau to review the justification, feasibility, and discuss with experts including consulates of relevant countries where the foreign domestic helpers mainly come from.”
The Philippine consulate in Hong Kong thanked Lam and her government for their “understanding and magnanimity” in a statement about the review. It encouraged all Philippine nationals in the city to get vaccinated.
City officials announced last week they would require foreign domestic workers, many of whom come from the Philippines and Indonesia, to undergo Covid-19 tests — and also get vaccinated if they wanted to renew their contracts. The announcement came after finding the first locally acquired case of a Covid-19 variant in a 39-year-old domestic worker living in the Tung Chung neighborhood.
Cynthia Tellez, the general manager for the Mission for Migrant Workers in Hong Kong, called the policy “very discriminatory.”
“First and foremost, having to be tested and to be vaccinated is very important for us — I think it is very good, except that when you make it mandatory,” Tellez said. “It sounds like this group of people are the carriers.”
COVID-19 tests in Hong Kong hit a daily record on Saturday after the government made it compulsory for foreign domestic workers. The city tested more than 113,000 people on Saturday, 52,000 of which were foreign domestic workers, the government said. No tests came back preliminarily positive by Sunday evening.
Hong Kong has mostly suppressed the virus, with low or zero daily case counts, but has struggled to overcome vaccine hesitancy in the broader population of 7.5 million people.
The decision had led to earlier outcry from the Philippine consulate and even prompted a response from the country’s foreign secretary, Teodoro Locsin, who wrote on Twitter that Hong Kong “can do better than that.”
“It is a good thing HK is vaccinating domestic workers but our consul is right,” Locsin tweeted on Sunday. “Though the effect is good and saving, still marking them out smacks of discrimination and if it is a special favor, it is unfair to other nationalities.”
© 2021 Bloomberg L.P.