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Police step up checks on FDW gatherings as Covid-19 tally hits 4k mark

Posted on 08 August 2020 No comments
By The SUN

The area around WorldWide House in Central is a favorite gathering place of Filipinos on Sundays

Hong Kong police have stepped up patrols this weekend in places where foreign domestic workers gather, amid fears that Covid-19 could spread among them, after two Indonesian domestic workers who had stayed in cramped dormitories tested positive earlier this week.

This is despite reports from the city’s health officials that no infections were found in at least three of the boarding houses where the Indonesian domestic workers who tested positive on Aug 5 and 6, had stayed.

At today’s daily press briefing on Covid-19, Dr Chuang Shuk-kwan of the Centre for Health Protection said that the latest results for tests done on people in boarding houses where the Indonesian workers had stayed all had negative results.

The latest tests were done on about 20 FDWs who had stayed at the dormitory run by Sunlight employment agency in North Point, and more than 14 others at another agency shelter in Sheung Wan.

Pindutin para sa detalye
Earlier, all 30 tests run on mostly FDWs who had stayed with the first patient in another boarding house in Wanchai run by employment agency KL Home Care Ltd. also produced negative results.

Chuang says all tests made on FDWs and staff in three agency-run shelters have had negative results

Chuang said authorities have yet to trace the owner of a unit in Haven Court in Causeway Bay where the first patient had stayed, but she is hopeful that no new infections would emerge from there as well.


Still, she urged FDWs and family members who tend to gather during the weekends to maintain social distancing to prevent further infections.

Chuang made the disclosure as she reported 69 new cases today, which pushed the total tally to 4,008. Only two of the cases were imported, both involving returnees from India, one of them a baby.
There were 37 cases linked to previous infections, most of them involving family members who had gathered for meals; while the source for the 30 others could not be traced. Around 40 preliminary positive cases were also noted.

Among the emerging clusters was one involving family members living in six different flats in a housing estate in Cheung Sha Wan. Chuang said specimen bottles have been distributed among residents, as it was possible environmental contamination had occurred.
Hospital Authority’s Lau Ka-hin reported that an 86-year-old female patient had passed away last night at Prince of Wales hospital, raising the death toll to 47. Most of the fatalities are elderly patients.

As of 9am today, 1,068 patients are in 18 hospitals, as well as Lei Yue Mun, AsiaWorld-Expo. Of these, 45 are in critical condition, 51 are serious, and 972 are stable.
Yesterday, Labour Secretary Law Chi-kwong said during a press conference of government officials led by Chief Executive Carrie Lam, that police will step up patrols at FDW haunts this weekend.

The reason for this, according to Law, is to make FDWs know about the law that limits public gatherings to two people, and the requirement for them to wear masks in public places.

He said 12 FDHs have each been fined $2,000 for violating the gathering ban.

The labour chief also confirmed that FDWs staying in boarding houses run by employment agencies will be given free Covid-19 tests, “to minimize the risk of cross infection.”

From Monday, the agencies will also be given masks which they should pass on to FDWs staying in their shelters.

OFWs call for independent inquiry on PhilHealth as Duterte orders probe

Posted on 07 August 2020 No comments
By The SUN

PhilHealth executives deny wrongdoing during Senate investigation

President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered the Department of Justice to form a panel to investigate allegations of massive corruption in the Philippine Health Insurance Corp and submit its findings and recommendations to his office within a month.

The move was welcomed by leaders of Filipino migrant workers in Hong Kong who have been clamoring for the scrapping of mandatory contribution to PhilHealth but expressed caution, saying an independent body should conduct the probe.

In a memorandum to Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra today, Aug 7, Duterte also ordered the department to audit PhilHealth finances and conduct a lifestyle check on its officials and employees.

The DOJ was also given power to require other government agencies, including constitutional commissions, to be members of the panel that will investigate the alleged multi-billion anomaly in the state health insurance, or to help in its work. 

“During the course of the investigation, if warranted, the panel may recommend to the president the imposition of preventive suspension on any PhilHealth official to ensure the unhampered conduct of the investigation,” Duterte said.

Eman Villanueva, chairman of Bayan Hong Kong & Macau, cast doubt on what the proposed investigation would accomplish, saying that Duterte may just be trying to show the people that he is acting on the controversy.
Tingnan natin kung kaya niyang papanagutin ang heneral na appointed niya sa tuktok ng PhilHealth. Puro kasi imbestigasyon. Wala namang napaparusahan. Ito naman ang kalakaran under Duterte,” Villanueva said.

(Let’s see if he can hold accountable the general whom he had appointed to head PhilHealth. It’s all investigation. But no one gets punished. That’s how Duterte does things.)

Pinasasakay lang ang taumbayan na akala mo may ginagawa [siya]. Pero lahat ng mga opisyal na appointed ni Duterte na nasangkot sa droga, korupsyon at iba pang krimen ay nag-resign lang, tapos na-recycle din later. Naa-appoint ulit sa ibang departamento. Malamang ganun din ang kahihinatnan niya.”
(He only makes people believe that he’s doing something. But all of the Duterte-appointed officials who were involved in drugs, corruption and other crimes only resigned and were recycled later. They were reappointed to other departments. It’s likely this issue will have a similar conclusion.)

Besides, Villanueva said, Duterte had certified as urgent the Universal Healthcare Law, which made OFW membership in PhilHealth mandatory and raised the premium rate by 10 times.

Ngayon, lumalabas eh pantapal pala sa ninanakaw na pondo ng PhilHealth at OFWs ang kukuhanan,” he said.
(So, now it appears they will use OFW money to cover up their theft of PhilHealth funds)

Dolores Balladares, chairperson of United Filipinos in Hong Kong, said it was just right to investigate the corruption in PhilHealth. 

Balladares during a protest against mandatory PhilHealth contribution: there should be impartial inquiry

“But I don’t think na yung mga tao na itinalaga niya [Duterte] ang dapat mag-imbestiga. Mga taong gobyerno din sila,” said Balladares. 

Isang independent body ang kailangan para maging malinis ang imbestigasyon. Parusahan ang mga opisyal at iba pang sangkot sa korupsyon sa PhilHealth.”


(But I don’t think Duterte’s appointees should do the investigation. They are also with the government. An independent body should conduct the investigation so it is above-board. All officials and other people involved in the corruption in PhilHealth should be punished).

She said PhilHealth president and chief executive Ricardo Morales should also be suspended while being investigated because the anomaly happened under his watch.

“Dapat managot din siya,” Balladares said, adding that Duterte should also be held to account for coddling Morales despite the long-standing allegations of corruption and misdeed against the government agency.

Whistleblower and former anti-fraud legal officer Thorrson Montes Keith told a Senate panel hearing on Aug 4 that a “mafia” involving the PhilHealth executive committee had stolen some Php15 billion from the agency by fraudulent means.

He had earlier alleged “widespread corruption” in the agency in his resignation letter dated Jul 23. He also cited his opposition to OFWs’ mandatory contributions, unfairness in the promotion process, and failure to receive his salary and hazard pay on time since he began investigating PhilHealth officers.

Senate Resolution No. 475 filed by Senate President Vicente Sotto III, Sen. Panfilo Lacson and other colleagues on Jul 27 to convene the Senate Committee of the Whole cited the alleged corrupt deeds.

The resolution cited the undue overpayments to healthcare institutions under the All Case Rates scheme, the alleged  P154-billion scam involving “ghost” patients of WellMed Dialysis & Laboratory Center Corp; conflict of interest in PhilHealth’s lease of a building owned by the family of Health Secretary Francisco Duque III.

In addition, a Mar 15, 2020 letter of PhilHealth board member Alejandro Cabading to Duterte said major discrepancies involving PhilHealth’s IT sector projects were discovered.

Cabading referred to an internal audit report showing P734 million worth of technology resources were included in PhilHealth’s budget proposal for 2020 despite the lack of approval by the Department of Information and Communications Technology. Testifying at the Senate hearing, he said Morales had indeed approved the purchases.

The audit report also revealed P98.05 million in overpriced items and P132.2 million worth of items that were subjected to splitting of contracts to avoid holding a public bidding.

Immigration to speed up visa processing for FDHs amid infection fears

Posted on No comments
By Daisy CL Mandap
Law said the faster processing of work visas will help decongest boarding houses

The Immigration Department has undertaken to speed up the visa processing for foreign domestic helpers, amid fears of a mass infection among migrant workers housed in cramped dormitories while waiting for their employment visa.

The assurance came as a second Indonesian domestic worker who had stayed at a boarding house run by an employment agency was confirmed as a Covid-19 case today, Aug 7.

Labour Secretary Law Chi-kwong said at a joint press conference with government officials that the waiting time for the approval of an employment visa will now be considerably shorter.
“In the light of the recent development, the Immigration Department has undertaken to process contract applications for foreign domestic helpers as soon as possible. It will then minimize the time that they need to stay in these boarding facilities,” said Law.

“If we reduce the waiting time, we will also reduce the overcrowding in these facilities.”

The government’s action was in response to criticism that the reason thousands of FDHs are forced to stay in cramped boarding houses and shelters is because it takes Immigration up to three months to approve their new employment contracts.
Law says police will also step up patrols to ensure FDHs follow gathering rules 
FDHs are not allowed to work or move in with their new employers in the meantime, so they are forced to stay in cheap or free accommodations.

Going back to their home countries is also not a option for many because of the heightened travel restrictions, which also entail huge costs for them and their employers.
The problem was highlighted in the case of an Indonesian domestic worker who tested positive for Covid-19 on Aug 5, after spending 15 days shuttling through four cramped dormitories while looking for a new employer.

An investigation by health officials showed that in the course of staying in these lodging places, the helper had come into close contact with no fewer than 60 people, most of them fellow migrant workers.

The second Indonesian helper who tested positive today also stayed for two days in a cramped dormitory run by an agency, before moving into her new employer’s house on Aug 1.

The fear that the coronavirus could spread rapidly among FDHs living in such close proximity prompted the government to announce mass testing among those staying in agency shelters.
A press release issued last night said that “a free, one-off Covid-19 testing service provided by a testing agency (Prenetics Limited) will be arranged for relevant FDHs."

The announcement said the testing agency will deliver specimen bottles to FDHs staying in the agencies’ shelter, and will collect them back after one or two days for testing.
“Cases with positive results will be relayed to the Centre for Health Protection (CHP) of the Department of Health for follow-up,” said the statement.

Starting tomorrow, the government will also distribute masks to agencies, which will be tasked with distributing them to FDHs who are staying in their boarding houses.

At the same time, Law said police will step up patrols in places frequented by FDHs to remind them about the gathering ban, which allows no more than two people to get together in public, and for them to wear masks in all public places.

He said 12 FDHs have so far been fined $2,000 each for violating the gathering restriction.

30 tests on Indo helper’s close contracts all negative for Covid-19

Posted on No comments
By The SUN

The infected Indonesian helper stayed in a unit in Haven Court, whose owner is still being tracked

Initial tests conducted on people who had stayed in boarding houses with an Indonesian domestic worker who tested positive for Covid-19 on Wednesday all turned out negative, said a health official at a press briefing today, Aug 7.

Dr Chuang Shuk-kwan of the Centre for Health Protection said, “Thirty tests have been done, we have no positive result yet. The other tests have pending result.”

At least 30 more people have been identified as close contacts of the helper, who stayed at four different boarding houses two weeks before she tested positive for the coronavirus disease.
Chuang also revealed that a second Indonesian worker who tested preliminary positive yesterday, is now a confirmed case.

The second helper also stayed at an agency-run dormitory for two days before moving into his new employer’s home on Aug 1, then showing symptoms three days later.

She was among 89 new confirmed cases reported today, which included eight imported cases. Two of these are new arrivals from the Philippines: one domestic helper, and a seafarer. Three others returned from India, two from Ecuador, and one from Ethiopia.

Pindutin para sa detalye

Of the 81 locally transmitted cases, 49 were linked to previous infections, and 40 of them came from family members having meals together, and with friends.

Chuang said that with help from the police, health authorities have identified the fourth shelter where the first infected Indonesian had stayed between leaving her former employer’s house on Jul 20 and testing positive on Aug 5.

She named it as a unit in Haven Court on Leighton Road in Causeway Bay, where the helper, identified as Case No 3664, had reportedly stayed between Jul 25 to 29, and then on Aug 1-3.
But, she said, “we still haven’t found the owner.”

The other boarding houses where the Indonesian helper had stayed were previously identified as: the KL Home Care Ltd shelter on Lockhart Road in Wanchai; the Perfect Maid Centre on Yee Wo Street in Causeway Bay, and Sunlight Employment on King’s Road in North Point.

Excluding the fourth unit, more than 60 people reportedly had close contact with the helper in the three dormitories.
The first tests were conducted among 28 boarders at this shelter in Wanchai run by KL Home Care Ltd
The second infected helper, on the other hand, stayed with about four to six other migrant workers in another agency-run dormitory at Kin On Commercial Building in Sheung Wan.

The helpers’ infections have highlighted the long delay faced by FDWs who are applying for a new employment visa, and who have to stay in temporary shelters in the interim.

It also prompted the government to have all FDWs staying in agencies’ boarding houses tested for Covid-19, and given free face masks.

Tunghayan ang isa na namang kwentong Dream Love

At today’s press conference, Dr Lau Ka-hin of the Hospital Authority also reported three more deaths resulting from Covid-19, which raised the fatality toll to 46. One patient died at Tuen Mun Hospital, and another at Caritas Medical Centre.

The third one passed away at Princess Margaret Hospital after testing preliminary positive. He was subsequently found infected, and added to the Covid-19 tally today.

As of 9am today, a total of 2,939 Covid-19 cases have been recorded in Hong Kong.


But only 1,019 remain in 18 public hospitals and the treatment facilities in Lei Yue Mun and AsiaWorld-Expo. Of these, 41 are in critical condition, 50 are serious, and 1,019 are stable.

Voluntary test of all HK residents for Covid-19 to start in two weeks

Posted on No comments
By Daisy CL Mandap

CE Lam is asking for cooperation from the public in the conduct of the expanded testing

Each one of Hong Kong’s 7.5 million residents will be eligible for a free coronavirus test in two weeks’ time, said Chief Executive Carrie Lam in a press briefing today, Aug. 7.

Lam said the tests, which will be carried out with help from experts from mainland China and private laboratories, will be voluntary, and the identities of individuals who get tested made known only to the Department of Health.

But ahead of the expanded testing, she said certain sectors, including foreign domestic helpers who are temporarily staying in boarding houses of employment agencies, will be tested.
The chief executive appealed for the public’s support and cooperation in the undertaking, saying that testing remains an important component in the early detection, isolation and treatment of infected residents.

She also said that this is a voluntary exercise, so “if people still have concern, they do not have to come forward.”

The statement was apparently aimed at critics who have cast doubt on the reliability of the mainland-led testing.
“We understand the public may have different comments, but this time, it’s a matter of life. I hope society could value science and evidence, and stop all kinds of conspiracies and smearing, especially when it’s the government who seeks the mainland’s help this time,” said Lam.

The city’s top official said the decision to conduct widespread testing was reached after the recent surge in Covid-19 cases, most of them locally-acquired, and close to 50% of them with unknown source.

She also expressed concern over the rapid rise in the death toll, which now numbers 46, most of them elderly patients who passed away only in the past few weeks.
She also cited the 54 positive results from about 137,000 tests conducted among high-risk groups such as taxi drivers, workers at elderly homes, restaurants, markets, slaughterhouses, management companies, schools and residents of higly infested areas.

Among these groups, workers at the Sheung Shui slaughterhouse had the highest infection rate, with five people, or 0.26 per cent of the 1,900 workers tested, returning a positive result.

Extrapolating from the result, Lam said that at one out of every 2,500 cases, the government estimated that there were at least 1,500 undetected cases in the community, proving the need for wider testing.

“Positive cases were found in all kinds of industries, and there have been at least 20 clusters found in the city,” the chief executive said.

Ahead of the mass testing, Lam said certain groups that have frequent contacts with the public, such as postmen, teachers, hotel staff and carers for the elderly, will also be given tests.

Apart from FDHs, another group that will have earlier access to the free tests are pregnant women, who will all be tested at Yan Chai hospital.
A team from the mainland is already in HK to help set up the labs that will process test results
Lam said the government would expand community treatment facilities at the current AsiaWorld Expo exhibition site and an area next to it, providing up to 2,000 beds.
An experimental laboratory using inflatable tents would also be set up at Sun Yat-sen Memorial Park in Sai Ying Pun.

The expanded testing will be carried out with help from three mainland-linked laboratories – BGI, Kingmed and Hong Kong Molecular.

To protect the privacy of residents, their identities will be linked to a barcode on specimen bottles and not revealed to the laboratories. Only health officials would have the link between the barcode and the identity of anyone who tests positive.

The city's top officials said the government would conduct the community testing in a safe, orderly and convenient manner, with no queues and long wait involved.

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