【明報專訊】THE pandemic situation outside Hong Kong is severe. The Hong Kong government has successively barred passenger planes from the Philippines and Indonesia from arriving in Hong Kong in accordance with the place-specific flight suspension mechanism. Many foreign domestic helpers have been unable to come to Hong Kong to work. The government faces a dilemma about whether to relax entry restrictions to alleviate the shortage of foreign domestic helpers.
Covid-19 variants are wreaking havoc on the world. In recent months, the pandemic situation in Southeast Asia has intensified as well. Recently, the daily number of confirmed cases in Indonesia has shot up to nearly 40,000. The situation in the Philippines has also attracted attention. Hong Kong's defence against imported cases was fraught with loopholes at one point. In a stepped-up effort to close these loopholes, the authorities introduced a number of measures, one of which was the place-specific flight suspension mechanism. If a designated number of passengers arriving in Hong Kong from a certain region are diagnosed with a COVID-19 variant within a week, the Hong Kong government will bar all passenger flights from this region from arriving in Hong Kong. In view of a string of COVID-19 diagnoses of foreign domestic helpers after their arrivals in Hong Kong, the government issued bans on passenger flights from the Philippines and Indonesia in April and June respectively in accordance with the place-specific flight suspension mechanism.
There are hundreds of thousands of foreign domestic helpers working in Hong Kong. At its peak, the number was close to 400,000. Early last year, the pandemic broke out, and the number of foreign domestic helpers arriving in Hong Kong tumbled due to quarantine measures. Now that foreign domestic helpers from the Philippines and Indonesia cannot come to Hong Kong, it is inevitable that the shortage of labour has become even more serious. Some agencies estimate that since the implementation of the flight ban, more than 5,000 foreign domestic helpers with visas have been unable to come to Hong Kong. They hope that the government will relax the restrictions. The Filipino authorities have recently contacted the Hong Kong government to discuss the issue of Filipino residents' and workers' travel to and from Hong Kong. It has attracted much attention whether the Hong Kong government will lift the restrictions and adjust the extremely high-risk classification currently given the Philippines. The Secretary for Labour and Welfare has merely said that the Hong Kong government has been closely monitoring the pandemic situations in Indonesia and the Philippines, adding that continuous exploration and study will be needed to determine whether there is room for adjustments to entry restrictions.
Many families in Hong Kong need to hire foreign domestic helpers. In addition to helping with daily chores, they also take care of the elderly, children, and the disabled in the family. The fact that demand for foreign domestic helpers is outstripping supply has had a great impact on these families. Some employers are at a loss because their newly hired foreign domestic helpers have been unable to come to Hong Kong because of the travel bans. Some foreign domestic helpers in Hong Kong have taken the opportunity to hold out for a better deal, demanding a monthly salary of more than $7000 and even making it clear that they will not take care of the elderly and infants. Some lawmakers have asked whether it is possible to introduce domestic helpers from mainland China. However, even if we put aside potential social issues such as sham marriages and illegal workers, it is still highly questionable how many mainlanders will be willing to come to Hong Kong to work as a domestic helper for $4000 or so per month given the salary levels on the mainland.
The pandemic situation outside Hong Kong is urgent. If the vaccination rate in Hong Kong reaches 70% to 80% so much so that a formidable wall of defence against the virus comes into existence, no doubt Hong Kong can reopen its doors to foreign domestic helpers, and the shortage of labour will be solved. Unfortunately, the reality is that the vaccination rate in Hong Kong has not even reached 40%.
Now the SAR government is considering allowing Hong Kong citizens who are currently in high-risk regions to return to Hong Kong on the basis of vaccination.The relaxation of entry restrictions must be done in a cautious manner. Hong Kong should wait until its vaccination rate has risen further. We can consider accepting the arrivals of other foreign domestic helpers who are vaccinated against COVID-19 only when the time is ripe.
明報社評 2021.07.15：先讓打針港人歸來 「外傭荒」短期要忍耐
■/ Glossary 生字 /
to do great damage or harm to sb/sth
filled with sth unpleasant
a mistake in the way a law, contract, etc. has been written which enables people to legally avoid doing sth that the law, contract, etc. had intended them to do