Home staff alarmed by obligatory Hong Kong vaccine plan

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Domestic workers alarmed by compulsory Hong Kong vaccine plan

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Hong Kong migrant workers groups on Saturday criticized plans to make coronavirus vaccines mandatory for all foreign domestic workers, calling the move "discriminatory and unjust".

Health officials said they planned to introduce compulsory vaccinations for the 370,000 home helpers in the city, mostly low-paid women from the Philippines and Indonesia.

Those looking to apply for a work visa or renew their current one will need to provide evidence that they have been vaccinated, officials said Friday.

If the plan is put into practice, it will be the first time Hong Kong ties foreigners' labor rights directly to vaccines.

"This is clearly an act of discrimination and stigma against immigrant domestic workers," Dolores Balladares Pelaez, chairwoman of United Filipinos in Hong Kong, told reporters.

Working groups representing domestic workers said they were upset with other foreigners – and locals who work in settings like nursing homes – also not need to be vaccinated.

"Again we are singled out and targeted," added Pelaez.

Health officials announced the vaccination schedule after it was discovered that two household helpers were infected with one of the more virulent strains of the coronavirus.

All domestic workers were also instructed to get tested in the coming days – a measure that did not extend to the families they work for.

Officials said domestic workers are classified as "high risk" because they come from overseas and often gather outdoors in large numbers on Sundays – one day off during the week.

They also take care of the elderly and vulnerable.

Hong Kong Labor Minister Law Chi-kwong defended the linking of domestic worker visas to vaccinations.

"Of course they can choose not to work in Hong Kong since they are not based in Hong Kong," Law said.

Eni Lestari, chairman of the International Migrants Alliance, described such comments as "unfair and shocking".

"Many employers are also not vaccinated for health, personal or even political reasons so they don't force their workers to vaccinate," she told AFP.

Migrant groups also indicated that wealthier foreign migrants – like city employees – are not forced to get vaccinated.

Wealthy Hong Kong has secured ample doses of vaccine, but there is reluctance to ingest them.

To date, only 12 percent of the city's 7.5 million residents have received one or more doses, far from the 60 to 70 percent required for herd immunity.

Thanks to strict quarantine measures and economically painful social distancing rules, the city has kept infections at just over 11,000.

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© 2021 AFP

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Domestic workers alerted by mandatory Hong Kong vaccination schedule (2021 May 1)
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