HONG KONG - (UPDATED)The Philippines' top envoy to Hong Kong urged Filipino domestic workers to report any abuse to the Consulate or the Hong Kong Labor Department as he stopped short of not joining the host city's appeal for workers to stay at home.
The Hong Kong government announced Friday it was prohibiting the gathering of groups of more than 4 after a record-breaking 65 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total number to 518 (111 have been discharged) as of March 27, were reported the same day, and with Chief Executive Carrie Lam highlighting that an overwhelming 90 percent of the cases reported this week were imported cases.
There are exceptions to the ban covering government duties, workplace for the purposes of work, hospital care, persons living in the same household, funerals, and a group of not more than 20 people in a wedding ceremony where food and drink are prohibited, as well as imparting skills or handling supplies that are conducive to the prevention and control of the disease. The law will come into effect beginning midnight, March 29, and anyone found violating it face a maximum penalty (level 4) of HK$25,000 (or about P150,000) and six months' imprisonment.
"We ask our Kababayans to stay at home whenever possible and if they need to go out, to avoid crowded places and exercise social distancing. We also issued a call to all employers to respect the days off of their employees if the latter choose to stay at home," said Consul General Raly Tejada in a text response to ABS-CBN News.
"Even the Labour Department issued a similar call and warned erring employers about the possible legal consequence. I think all are now aware that any abuse or violation of an employee's rest day will not be tolerated," he added.
Eman Villanueva, chairperson, Bayan Hong Kong and Macau, told ABS-CBN News that the Hong Kong government's set of social distancing measures was a 'reasonable option', but the specific advisory targeted domestic workers while other workers, such as those in the food and beverage industry, still reported for work despite the risks.
"We are not absolutely against the idea of staying at home. It is a reasonable option for social distancing. But in most cases, it is not an option for live-in domestic workers, especially those without their own private room or space inside their employers' homes," said Villanueva.
"Kaya, what we strongly oppose is when the HKSAR government made it a policy. And only for migrant domestic workers," he added.
He said employers still ask their workers to run errands every day.
"In the end, it is not distancing but just a direct violation of the migrant domestic workers' right to statutory rest day. Kaya yong limiting public gatherings to 4 na applicable to all, we will follow. Kasi it's for everyone to follow and not for a specific group of people lang," said Villanueva.
(In the end, it is not distancing but just a direct violation of the migrant domestic workers' right to statutory rest day. That's why we will follow the limiting of public gatherings to four, which is applicable to all. Because it's for everyone to follow and not for a specific group of people only.)
Hong Kong health authorities are also now looking into a possible community outbreak in the Lan Kwai Fong musician cluster after revealing they were contact tracing some 120 others. As of March 27, authorities reported 10 new cases related to four bars, and nine cases are patrons of the bars.
Four of them went to All Night Long in Tsim Sha Tsui on different dates, and one of them, case 512, was reportedly a nurse who works as an occupational therapist facility in Wong Chuk Hang belonging to the Tung Wah Group of Hospitals.
Cases 304 and 515 are also considered close contacts of the patrons that went to All Night Long and the other bars. One of them is a contact of case 145.
Dr. Chuang Shuk-kwan, head of the Communicable Disease Branch of the Centre for Health Protection of the Department of Health, also said a performer was included in the March 27 update. Others infected include the workers, chef, waitress, supervisor or the management of these bars while four of them worked at Dusk Til Dawn.
"So far we have identified around 16 visitors of these bars," said Dr. Chuang during the March 27 press briefing.
The most recent cases also included two Filipino domestic workers, one of whom recently arrived from the Philippines while another recently came from the US with her employers.
Authorities said all persons traced or considered close contact will be immediately sent to quarantine.
Earlier Dr. Chuang said that preliminary investigation showed that the company, Step by Step, was responsible for managing four bars and nine bands.
"Even though not all band members are affected, from what we know, they live in company-provided dormitories, but not everyone lived there," said Dr. Chuang.
"Either at work or at home there is some contact among them in a rather intimate way. You can see a large number of affected persons. Rather than wait to ask them questions one-by-one, we might see the whole group as high risk," she added.
Insomnia in Lan Kwai Fong, Dusk Til Dawn and Centre Stage both in Wanchai, and All Night Long in Tsim Sha Tsui, all identified as places where the band has played or have been to, belong to the same group company. The company employs nationals from different companies, but most of them are Filipinos, Dr. Chuang said.
The health official again made an appeal to all those who have been to the areas or suspect they might have been in contact with the positive cases to contact the Centre for Health Protection or go see a doctor.
Authorities said they are mainly doing contact tracing among the staff of the bar, but added that it was difficult to trace the patrons of the bars and cautioned people to remain vigilant, as the patrons may have also attended other gatherings.
"There are isolated cases and small outbreaks involving a workplace or office so there's some degree of local transmission of the virus, that's beyond doubt. Whether it's a major outbreak or community outbreak, Hong Kong authorities will continue to monitor the cases closely," said Dr. Chuang.
Cases 422nd, 428th. 450th and 442nd are all patrons of the three bars mentioned, too. Case 437th also went to another bar in Central.
For Hong Kong's 413th, 447th, and 451st case, they reportedly work at three of the bars. For cases 422nd, 428th, 450th, and 442nd, they also visited these bars during the incubation period. The 432nd, 434th, and 441st cases are performers.
"We're talking quite a sizeable group here. Maybe unintentionally have some close interaction, close contacts," said Dr. Chuang.
Another bar, Kagesha Lounge located at a building in 45 Pottinger Street, Central, has also been identified by health authorities during their contact tracing.
In a post on their Facebook page on March 24, the Kagesha management team confirmed that at least two confirmed cases had visited their premises.
"After initial investigation and speaking to the persons involved, we can confirm that both cases 275 and 284 have visited our shop on March 13, 2020. From the first moment, we have immediately taken steps to deep clean and disinfect our premises, suspended our services and also conducted a first round of tests for all of our staff," said the management.
"So far, all staff members who worked on 13 March have not shown any symptoms or signs of discomfort, but we will keep monitoring the situation and run another round of blood tests in seven days. Currently, we aren’t able to confirm whether case 278 has been to our premises or others within H-Code. We will continue to investigate, try to contact any individuals related to case 278 and further review our CCTV camera record," it added.
Dr. Chuang said the newly arrived domestic worker lived in a boarding house and that they are also doing tracing at the boarding house, and trying to find out how many people stayed there. The domestic helper started having cough and her employer will be quarantined as well.
Meanwhile, the Philippine Consulate, in its March 26 advisory, said it was informed by the Department of Health that three more Filipinos have tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total to 16 Filipinos receiving treatments in various hospitals across Hong Kong.