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EOC asked to investigate discrimination linked to coronavirus outbreak

Posted on 26 February 2020 No comments
By The SUN
 
Priscilla Leung and ex-OEC officer Chok Kin ming announce plan to file discrimination case with EOC (RTHK photo)

A pro-Beijing lawmaker has announced that she will ask the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) to look into cases of alleged discrimination against people linked to the coronavirus outbreak.

Priscilla Leung, from the Business and Professionals Alliance, said today, Feb. 25, that she has received complaints from people who have faced abuse, either directly or online, because they have been linked to the spread of Covid-19. These include a man under home quarantine and some police officers and their families.

She also singled out people who had joined protests against plans to set up quarantine sites in their neighborhood, saying they might have breached anti-discrimination laws.

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The Mission for Migrant Workers, on the other hand, has also issued a statement calling on the government to ensure foreign domestic workers are not “discriminated, isolated and excluded in the fight against the new virus.”

The Mission’s call reflects complaints made by several Filipino domestic workers online about how their employers have stopped them from going out on their rest day, as if they are likely to bring the virus into their homes.

Migrant groups have urged the government to include them in the effort to fight the spread of Covid-19
Some FDWs who insisted on taking their day off have complained about being sprayed thoroughly with antiseptic on their return home, and in at least one case, being told to throw away the clothes she had worn.

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Leung called for tolerance among the public, and said her group will choose a number of cases involving discriminatory acts that they will ask the OEC to act on.

"The whole purpose, first of all, is to do public education by following up the necessary cases which we consider to be more serious. We'll take up seven to eight cases. We may not target the public, because I think many of the public may not be aware of the law," Leung said.

"We want to take action over some of the special cases which obviously have a high chance of having breached the Disability Discrimination Ordinance."

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Several protests have been staged across Hong Kong over plans to build quarantine centres and special clinics for coronavirus patients, with some sites vandalized.

Last month, a building in Fanling was even set on fire by protesters opposed to a government plan to use empty flats there to quarantine people.

The EOC has called on the protesters to be more reasonable and compassionate toward those who need to be isolated.

The government agency said the hostility would only delay help for those who might be infected and undercut efforts to bring the epidemic under control.

“There is a great deal of concern and apprehension surrounding the epidemic, and that is completely understandable. However, our city is now at the critical juncture of trying to pre-empt a community-wide outbreak. If we all harbour a NIMBY (not in my backyard) mentality and object to having the facilities built in our neighbourhoods, the epidemic will likely spiral out of control, and eventually the whole society and all of us will have to suffer the consequences,” said EOC chairperson Ricky Chu Man-kin.

“The EOC is especially concerned about the potential stigma that might be inflicted on users of the facilities and other persons affected by the virus amid the opposition. At its worst, it can deter infected persons from disclosing their condition, receiving quarantine inspection or simply visiting a doctor,” he added.

Chu, however, urged the government to step up efforts to communicate the purpose and operations of the said facilities, saying the resistance could just be the result of a misunderstanding and misapprehension.
This building being disinfected by health workers could be a target for discrimination

The EOC has also called on business establishments to stop turning away customers from mainland China and putting up notices saying they are not welcome.

“The EOC appeals to the public to refrain from derogatory, insulting or vilifying language and any discriminatory acts against members of a particular race or ethnic group,” said the statement.

Under the Race Discrimination Ordinance (RDO), it is unlawful for any person or organisation to treat someone less favorably on the ground of race, such as by refusing to provide goods, services or facilities.

In addition, the Disability Discrimination Ordinance (DDO) outlaws discrimination, harassment and vilification based on disability, including being infected with a virus that could cause disease.

Under the anti-discrimination ordinances, the EOC has the power to investigate complaints, including interviewing the parties concerned so the situation could be corrected, and the underlying motives for the discriminatory practice weeded out.


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Polo to have a new contract submission system by May, says new Labatt

Posted on No comments
By Vir B. Lumicao

New Labatt Mel Dizon expects the new system to be  in place by May

A new system for submitting contracts by employment agencies to the Philippine Overseas Labor Office should be ready in three months, says newly posted Labor Attache Mel Dizon.

The new system is reportedly being developed by an IT team within the Department of Labor and Employment, and is expected to be installed at Polo by the end of May.

Since Feb 2, Hong Kong agencies have been submitting employment contracts manually to Polo for processing after the old system provided by EmployEasy was discontinued 13 years since it was put in place.
The new system is one of a few administrative changes that Labatt Dizon said he is going to implement to improve the delivery of services by Polo.

He said he discussed these changes in a meeting with staff at Polo and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration on his first day in office last Sunday, Feb 23.

He said when he left Manila on Feb 21, the development of the system had already started. The system will be the property of Dole and will eliminate third parties to avoid issues on data privacy.

It will be used only in Polo Hong Kong because of the big volume of contracts being processed at post.

“It is our own system na, Dole system, kaya nga iyon ay dini-develop. Ang usapan namin sa Manila kasi, mai-install in three months’ time. So, in the meantime, kailangang mag-manual kami,” Labatt Dizon said.
 
A queue number system is being planned to avoid overcrowding near the service counters
Despite expectations that the shift back to manual processing would slow down the process, Labatt Dizon said that so far, no complaint about delays has been received.

He said he told his staff the document processing time should not exceed 72 hours on the Polo side. That does not include authentication, which is done by the Consulate.
Evaluating staff will be given a checklist against which to check whether the documents submitted are complete or their contents are compliant with Polo requirements, he said.

“Basta anuman ang maging problema, ihahanap namin ng solusyon, Hindi namin iyan tutulugan hanggang hindi kami nakakahanap ng solusyon,” he said.

While the manual processing is still in place, Labatt Dizon said he might recruit up to four emergency local hires to beef up the Polo staff. He is now studying the salary range for the temporary staff to see if the budget that he is seeking from DOLE will be enough.
  
Another change he plans to introduce is a queue number system under which people with transactions will get a ticket as they enter the Polo public hall, instead of lining up long before the gate opens to secure a seat in front of the counters.
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HK schools to remain closed until Apr 20; parents express concern

Posted on No comments
By The SUN


HK's 85th case is a 60-year-old member of the HK Jockey Club (HKJC photo)
Hong Kong has announced that schools will remain closed until after the Easter holiday, as five more confirmed cases of coronavirus or Covid-19 infection were reported today, Feb. 25, bringing the total number to 85.

The latest confirmed case was a 60-year-old member of the exclusive Hong Kong Jockey Club, who was seen by five private doctors before testing positive.

Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung Yun-hung said that classes at all kindergartens and primary and secondary schools would be suspended until April 20 at the earliest. The earlier plan was to reopen schools from Mar 16.

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But he said written tests for university entrance exams (DSE) which some 50,000 students are expected to take, will go ahead as planned from March 27.

A students' group has opposed the decision, citing a poll it conducted among 11,000 students that showed an overwhelming majority wanted the exam postponed by at least a month because of fear of contamination. A third also cited their school’s lack of preparation.
 
The Secondary School Students Strike Platform wants the DSE exams suspended for a month
Parents have expressed mixed reactions to the extension of the class suspension. While many worry that their kids could catch the virus in a classroom setting, others think the government is overreacting, citing the low infection rate among children.

“As we are finding out more and more about the disease, we are finding out how few children are infected…Yes, we must be careful and take precautions, but we shouldn’t overreact either, and jeopardize children’s education and well-being,” said a concerned Filipino mother in an online chat group.

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“Decisions have to be based on calculated risks and tradeoffs, and not purely out of fear or political aversion to being blamed. Singapore has not suspended a single day of school but just canceled large school gatherings. I don’t think they care less about their children.”

Other parents say the online teaching system is taking a toll on them and their children.

“My husband and I work fulltime and my son gets homework everyday from five or more different teachers. It’s one thing to do assignments with them, it’s another  thing to first teach them the concepts, and then do the assignments. I’m sorry but not everyone can teach- it’s a skill,” said another Filipina mother married to a French national.

“We get to teach our son when we get home in the evenings – us tired from work and our son also by that time already sleepy. This results to a stressful teaching and learning environment and strains our relationship so it defeats the whole purpose of them learning at home.”
Yeung said that when classes do resume, they will do so in phases. But he said that since schools had been holding online classes, summer holidays would in principle not be shortened, but individual schools could arrange for some students to make up classes if needed.

Four more infections were confirmed today, with the latest being a 60-year-old member of the Jockey Club who lives in Tai Hang. She was seen by a private doctor five times before she was taken to the private Hong Kong Sanatorium and Hospital in Happy Valley.

After she tested positive for the virus, the woman was taken to Queen Mary Hospital in Pokfulam where she is now in isolation.

Parts of the Happy Valley Clubhouse which she had visited during the incubation period, including the food plaza, gym, swimming pool and changing rooms, have been closed, with employees working on those days put on self-isolation for two weeks.

Three other infections were confirmed earlier – a 33-year-old employee of the MTR and a mother and son linked to a Buddhist hall in North Point where there have been several infections.

The MTR employee is the son of the city’s 72nd case, a 62-year-old man. He worked at Mong Kok East station as an attendant, and had been absent from work since February 21. He is being treated at United Christian Hospital.

The other two, the 83rd and 84th cases, are a 55-year-old woman who had visited the Fook Wai Ching She worship hall in North Point and her son, 24. Both have been admitted to Ruttonjee Hospital in Wan Chai.


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No exemptions from 14-day quarantine, says Consulate

Posted on 25 February 2020 No comments
By Daisy CL Mandap

Consul General Raly Tejada says the 14-day quarantine for vacationing Filipinos remains enforced

After Manila’s travel ban to Hong Kong was lifted for Filipino residents and migrant workers, a new problem has emerged for those who now plan on going home for a holiday.

They all want to know if the 14-day quarantine for those entering the Philippines from Hong Kong means they cannot come back to the city until after they have stayed in the country that long.

The answer, says Consul General Raly Tejada, is yes. “14 day it is,” he said in response to a query made on behalf of several would-be travelers, many of them overseas Filipino workers.
That means, all Filipinos who enter the country from Hong Kong while the restriction is in place will not be allowed to fly out until after they have remained there for the required period.

The 14-day standard quarantine period is meant to ensure that Filipinos and permanent visa holders in the Philippines arriving from Hong Kong, China and Macau do not have the dreaded novel coronavirus or Covid-19.

This reasoning is being questioned by many of those desperate to make a quick trip home, pointing out that Hong Kong has a much lower rate of infection compared to other countries where the Philippines has not imposed a travel ban.
As of today, there are nearly 80,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19, mostly in China. But the spread has recently accelerated in countries like Japan and South Korea, which each has more than 800 cases. Italy has 152, and Singapore, 90. No ban has been imposed by Manila in any of these countries except China.
 
Self-quarantine card issued to Filipinos arriving from China, HK and Macau
Despite this, the Philippines has remained rigid in its requirement that all Filipinos arriving from China and its SARs stay in the country for 14 days, even those who just want to go home for emergency reasons, like attending a family member’s funeral.

Told that some of those who want to go home are begging for an exemption just so they could see a relative one last time, ConGen Tejada said he did not have that authority. Nor can he advise them on what to do. “Wala din akong ma-advice. The 14-day quarantine remains ,” he says.
Among those who sent a message to the Consulate to ask if she could go home for just a week to attend her brother’s funeral is Del, who said she was granted only that short break by her employer who has two young children to look after.

Del was upset to hear that a week’s vacation won’t do. Her frustration is reportedly shared by her employer, who said the country’s policy makers are “crazy” for imposing the restriction even for those who don’t show any sign of infection.

“Hay, libing sana ng kapatid ko sa Sabado. Naawa naman ako sa amo ko kung two weeks ang uwi ko (kasi) may maliit na baby at 2 years old na alaga ako,” Del said.

The 14-day self-quarantine was among the conditions laid down by the Philippine government when it imposed a travel ban on Feb 2 in and out of China, Hong Kong and Macau.

Under the travel restrictions, only Filipinos and permanent visa holders in the Philippines can enter the country if they are flying in from Hong Kong, Macau and China. Foreigners are barred, even if they had just stopped over in the three places, or had visited them within 14 days prior to flying to the Philippines.

The ban was partially lifted on Feb. 18, but only to allow Filipino residents and OFWs departing for Hong Kong and Macau. The inbound restrictions remained.

In an advisory on Feb. 19, the Consulate reposted an advisory from the Department of Foreign Affairs which said in part: “There is no travel ban on Filipino nationals and permanent residents returning from China and its SARs however, returning travelers will be subjected to a 14-day self-quarantine upon their return.”

The news that the ban had been partially lifted prompted many excited OFWs in Hong Kong to start planning their vacation to the Philippines, including those who are looking forward to attending their children’s graduation next month.

Initially, their main concern was whether they’d be allowed to go out of the house during the self-quarantine, but their anxiety was quickly allayed by a number of those who just recently arrived in the Philippines.

Unless they show symptoms of being sick, they are free to go out, say those who are already in the country. It is up to them if they want to hole up in the house or mingle outside, but they must make sure they remain healthy.

But the 14-day stay is now proving to be the bigger concern.

OFWs in anti-virus protective gear imposed by their employers

Not a few OFWs have posted on the Facebook group, DWC Help, asking if the compulsory stay won’t be waived, saying they already have made bookings for a vacation with a shorter duration.

Said Rhealynm, “Ang iniisip lang naming ay yung pagbalik? Paano kung hindi namin matapos ang 14 days? Katulad ko, 12 days lang ako. May nagsabi kasi na dapat tapusin ang 14 days dahil kung hindi hindi ka pababalikin ng Hong Kong.”

Sherlyn said: “Direct flight ako sa Davao. Yun din nga ang iniisip ko, paano pabalik if my 14 days quarantine? She then suggested that those who can’t complete the required stay should ask the airline for free rebooking or refund “kasi di naman natin kagustuhan ang 14 days quarantine na iyan.”

Tessa, another would-be traveler, commented: “Uuwi ka magbakasyon, tapos 1week or 2 weeks ka sa Pilipinas, tapos i-quarantine ka pa. Ano na ang mangyari sa bakasyon mo? Pagtapos mo ng quarantine, balik na na ulit sa trabaho mo, ano yun?”

For some, going on restricted vacation isn’t worth the additional worry. Said Lynnedalle: “Kung ako ang tatanungin, ipagpaliban ko muna ang bakasyon ko, or bayaran na lang ni amo ang annual leave mo…kaysa sa ganyan, mag-quarantine ka ng 14 days kahit sa bahay lang, hindi mo ma enjoy ang vacation mo. So para ka lang nagsabi ng hello and bye sa family mo.”

Many simply hope the quarantine will be lifted soon so they can reunite with their family as before, in peace and with Covid-19 far from their minds.
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