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Filipina fined $2k, gets suspended jail term for selling mercury-laden whitener

Posted on 21 April 2021 No comments

By Vir B. Lumicao 

BioClear was found to contain mercury that's 16,471 times over the safety level

A Filipina business owner was fined $2,000 and sentenced to a suspended two-month jail term after admitting she supplied a skin whitener with high mercury levels and failed to attach a warning label on the product.

On top of this, Jane G. Erellana was ordered to pay the Hong Kong government $34,477.11 for the cost of laboratory tests on 137 tubes of BioClear that customs and police officers seized from her in shop in World-Wide Plaza in Central.


Erellana, 39, appeared before Eastern Magistrate Peter Law for the first time since her arrest on Jul 14 last year when her Gandara Shop was raided by the authorities.

She faced one count each of “supplying unsafe consumer goods” and “supplying consumer goods which failed to comply with bilingual warning or caution requirement.” Erellana pleaded guilty to both charges.


Her arrest came on the same day that the Centre for Health Protection issued a warning against the use of BioClear, after laboratory tests reportedly showed that the product contained mercury that was 16,471 times the acceptable level.

According to CHP, the Health Department had the product tested after a 37-year-old woman who had used it for around four months developed swelling of both lower limbs and sought help.

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Her urine sample showed an elevated mercury level, which was suspected to be related to her use of the product.

"Chronic exposure to mercury can cause damage to the nervous system and kidneys. Symptoms may include tremors, irritability, insomnia, memory deterioration, concentration difficulty, impaired hearing and vision, and change in the taste function. In severe cases, renal failure may occur," the CHP’s statement said.

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In mitigation, Erellana’s lawyer said the defendant had admitted the charges at the first instance and was very sorry for the harm done.

Magistrate Law said the Filipina will not serve her two-month jail sentence unless she commits another offence within a year. But she needed to pay the fine and the cost of testing her products.


The sentencing was delayed for about an hour as the Filipina’s lawyer opposed the move to charge her the testing cost. They eventually relented but haggled with the court to pay with a 30-day check.

The items seized from the defendant's shop in World-Wide Plaza

According to the prosecution, police raided the defendant’s shop in July 2020 after receiving information from the DH about the mercury poisoning case.

Customs officers reportedly checked several shops in various districts but found no other one that sold Bio Clear, apart from Gandara.

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On the day of the raid, an undercover customs officer pretended to be a customer and bought a tube of the cream for around $400, the prosecution said. After paying for the product, the officer identified herself then called in other officers.

They arrested Erellana and seized 137 boxes of Bio Clear, which they sent for laboratory testing. The test result on the seized products was released on Aug 17, 2020, and showed the same result as the one previously done by the HA.

Tunghayan ang isa na namang kwentong 

The CHP has advised anyone using the product to stop immediately and consult health  professionals as soon as possible if they feel unwell or are in doubt.


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Filipina DH with variant is only Covid-19 case

Posted on No comments

By Daisy CL Mandap 

The lone case tested positive on her 12th day in quarantine at Silka Yau Ma Tei

A Filipina domestic helper who arrived on Apr 8 and tested positive on her second sample while under hotel quarantine is the only Covid-19 case reported today.

No local case was reported, the first since Apr 4.


The 31-year-old Filipina, who was asymptomatic, was on the 12th day of her stay at Silka Seaview Hotel in Yau Ma Tei when she tested positive for coronavirus.  She had flown in via Cebu Pacific flight 5J272.

A staff at the Centre for Health Protection said the patient was also found to carry the N501Y variant, which is said to be 70 times more infectious than the regular virus strain.


The number of imported cases has dropped significantly since Hong Kong tightened entry restrictions for those arriving from abroad on Apr 15, including banning flights when a certain number of passengers test positive on arrival in Hong Kong.

A two-week suspension on all flights from the Philippines, India and Pakistan which took effect yesterday is likely to reduce the number of imported cases even more.

Two experts dispute claim that food hooks caused the virus to spread

Meanwhile, an infectious disease expert has cast doubt on CHP’s statement yesterday that food hooks must have spread the South African variant among three guests who had quarantined on the same floor of Ramada Grand Hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui in the second half of March and early April.

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Prof. David Hui of the City University of Hong Kong, who is also a government health consultant, said on a radio talk show this morning that the S-shaped hooks used to hang food rations of quarantined guests had tested negative for the coronavirus.

Hui said the hooks could just be one of the sources of infection, but it could also be environmental contamination, or a long incubation period.

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Another health expert, Leung Chi-chiu, totally dismissed the notion that the hooks had caused cross contamination among the three hotel guests.

He said airborne transmission was the likely source, given that most hotels have narrow corridors through which contaminated air could circulate quite easily.


At yesterday’s press briefing, CHP’s infectious disease expert Dr Chuang Shuk-kwan said experts who checked the hotel did not find anything wrong with its ventilation and air conditioning system, or its sewage pipes.

That made the experts conclude that the food hooks must have caused the virus to spread as they were the only objects shared among guests, Chuang said.

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The three patients from the hotel included a 29-year-old Indian man who was classified as the first local case to have the variant.

He flew in from Dubai on Mar 18 and tested negative for all Covid-19 tests while in quarantine. He was found infected only after he got himself tested before his intended departure from Hong Kong.

Tunghayan ang isa na namang kwentong 

The two other cases who had stayed on the same floor as the man in Ramada TST were both detected earlier. Both were FDHs, one Filipina and one Indonesian.

Another Indonesian DH who had spent her 21-day quarantine in the same hotel, but on a different floor, was among the local cases listed yesterday. She had moved in with her employer in Yau Tong on Apr 10 and was detected only after submitting herself to compulsory testing.


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100 OFWs flown home as flight ban from Manila takes effect

Posted on 20 April 2021 No comments

By Vir B. Lumicao 

The airlift to Manila today was arranged by the Consulate, as was this flight in June last year

A total of 100 overseas Filipino workers were flown home today, Apr 20, just hours after a two-week flight ban imposed by Hong Kong on the Philippines took effect.

The information was disclosed by Consul Paul Saret, head of the Consulate’s assistance to nationals section, who also said the Philippine Airlines plane that flew home the passengers had arrived from Manila loaded with just cargo.


The two-week suspension on all flights coming from the Philippines, India and Pakistan was announced by Hong Kong just a day before it took effect, and was imposed after the first two local cases of variant-carrying patients were found.  Local health officials said this was because the biggest number of imported cases found to carry the mutated virus had come from the three countries.


Saret said the flight carrying the stranded Filipino workers was booked earlier by the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, and was arranged by the Consulate directly with the airline.

The PAL plane landed earlier than its expected arrival time in Hong Kong of 9:55 this morning, according to the Hong Kong International Airport flight information website.

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Two other cargo flights were also shown to have flown in from Manila today, one operated by Cebu Pacific and another by Hong Kong Airlines. It was not known if they had flown back to Manila with passengers, which is allowed despite the flight ban.

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Saret said the next PAL special flight for Manila will be on Apr 23, and it will also carry exactly 100 passengers, the maximum number allotted by the airline for its Hong Kong flights.

Philippine officials have limited the number of arrivals at Manila airport amid a surge in infections

Philippine authorities have limited the number of daily arrivals from abroad to just 1,500, since Mar 31, in an attempt to decongest the airport and prevent an overflow of people in designated quarantine facilities amid a surge in local infections.


Saret said the PCG has asked the Department of Foreign Affairs to request PAL for an extra 150 seats for Hong Kong to bring home more stranded OFWs, with priority to the sick.

He said no OFWs were stranded at the Hong Kong airport this time because they had been forewarned of the flight ban. In the past months, last-hour airline flight cancellations had marooned dozens of homeward-bound OFWs.


Edwina Antonio, executive director of Bethune House Migrant Women’s Refuge, said at least two migrant workers have asked for help because they could not book flights after being told by Hong Kong Immigration to go home.

Tunghayan ang isa na namang kwentong 

She advised them to talk to Immigration again so their visas could be extended until they could arrange for a flight home despite the ban.




Food hooks in hotel may have caused South African variant to spread

Posted on No comments

By Daisy CL Mandap 

'S' hooks used to deliver food boxes to guests is believed to be behind virus spread

“S” hooks used to deliver food to people quarantined at the Ramada Hong Kong Grand Hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui may have caused a mutated form of the coronavirus to spread among at least three people quarantined there.

This was disclosed today, Apr 20, by Dr Chuang Shuk-wan of the Centre for Health Protection during the regular press briefing on the latest coronavirus situation in Hong Kong.


Chuang reported eight additional Covid-19 cases classified as three imported, four local, and one unclassified, referring to a 56-year-old woman who was on home quarantine after arriving from Fujian province.

The CHP official said that investigations into the case of the 29-year-old man classified as the first local case found to have the N501Y variant showed he could have been part of a cross-contamination that occurred at Ramada TST where he stayed for his 21-day quarantine.


Two other patients who had stayed on the same floor of the hotel during the time the Indian man was there were also found to have an almost identical genetic sequencing of the South African variant he carried.

Both patients were foreign domestic helpers, one a Filipina, and the other, Indonesian. One of them stayed in a room next door to the man, the other farther down the corridor.

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As there were no signs that the virus could have spread through the hotel air conditioning system or the water pipes, Chuang said investigators concluded the virus could have spread through the hooks used for food delivery.

These “S” hooks were reportedly used to hang plastic bags containing the food delivered to guests, and which they also used to return lunch boxes used after each meal.

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“We suspected that the hooks were the source of cross infection,’ Chuang said.

She also disclosed that around 10 guests who had stayed on the same floor of the hotel since January had been found to have the variant. Experts are now doing genome sequencing on these cases to see if they were part of one big cluster.


Since this discovery, all hotels have been told to stop using the hooks for delivering food to guests, she added.

Among the local cases is an Indonesian DH who had quarantined at Ramada Grand

Among those who had stayed in Ramada TST at about the same time as the man from Dubai, but on a different floor, is a 29-year-old Indonesian FDH  who is among four local cases reported today.

Tunghayan ang isa na namang kwentong 

The Indonesian arrived on Mar 20, and after ending her 21-day quarantine, had moved into her employer’s house in Yau Tong. She was found infected on Apr 18, after submitting to compulsory testing.

The same transmission mode is suspected to have caused the virus to spread among three guests at Ramada Grand View in North Point earlier in March.


In this case, the virus found in a couple who flew in from Canada was found to have the same genetic sequencing as that carried by a Filipina domestic worker who had stayed in a room opposite to theirs.

Chuang said investigators had ruled out the possibility that the patient from Dubai had caught the mutated virus from his girlfriend with whom he lived in Jordan after his quarantine because the woman’s infection was deemed to be recent.

Because of this finding, everyone who had stayed in rooms on the same floor of Ramada TST from Mar 19 to Apr 9, when the index case was there, was moved to quarantine “just in case they were exposed to the same risk,” said Chuang.

Chuang says investigation on possible virus spread in Ramada hotels continues

The other imported cases today include two who were found infected while staying at Ramada in North Point. One is a 38-year-old FDH who arrived from the Philippines on Apr 6, and the other is a two-year-old boy who flew in from India with family members who were earlier found infected.

He was in the same Vistara flight, UK6395, where a total of 53 passengers have so far tested positive for Covid-19, said Chuang.

The third imported case is a two-year-old girl who had flown in from India and was found infected in a quarantine center where she was moved after some family members tested positive for the virus earlier.

Two other local cases, as well as the unclassified one, all live in Tsuen Wan, where a rash of cases with unknown sources has been reported recently. This prompted Chuang to admit that there seems to be an invisible transmission going on in the district.

The two local cases who live there are both women. One is 57 years, and the other, a 46-year-old who arrived from Shenzhen on Apr 6 and had worked in Nina Hotel from Apr 10 to 19.

The unclassified case involving a 57-year-old who arrived on Apr 6 from Fujian via Shenzhen, had also been staying in Tsuen Wan for her home quarantine.

Chuang said this was “quite likely an imported case but could also be local because there were some family members who were going in and out” of the house where she was staying.

The last local case involves a 41-year-old male construction worker who lives in Tai Wai.

No preliminary cases were reported.



Posted on No comments

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HK-bound workers despair as flight ban strands them in Manila

Posted on No comments

Vir B. Lumicao 

HK estimates about 1K FDHs have been affected by the flight suspensions

Filipino domestic workers who were due to fly to Hong Kong today or in the next few days have been taken by surprise by the government’s total ban on all flights from Manila for two weeks.

The affected workers said the ban was so unfair, especially for those who came from faraway provinces and had to stay in boarding houses in Manila while waiting for their flights.

It was not known how many Hong Kong-bound domestic helpers are stranded at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport due to the ban, which was announced by the SAR government before midnight Sunday. 


However, Labour Secretary Law Chi-kwong had said in an interview earlier htat about one thousand FDHs would be affected by any flight ban.

This time, there are no OFWs stranded at Hong Kong International Airport due to the flight ban, Consul General Raly Tejada said. But he said the Consulate is trying to find ways to bring home those who were unable to fly home.

“Rest assured that we are working on other ways of bringing our stranded people home,” ConGen Tejada said in a message. “Stranded passengers are advised to visit OWWA while those embarking on non-essential travel should reconsider their plans by canceling or postponing their flights home.”


The PCG issued an advisory Monday evening informing Filipinos here about Hong Kong’s decision and urged the public to adjust their travel plans.

The PCG advisory telling travelers to adjust their flight plan in light of the ban

The Filipino community is hereby informed of the Hong Kong government’s decision to designate the Philippines as an extremely high-risk place under the Prevention and Control of Disease Regulation (Cap. 599H).

As a result, all flights from the Philippines are prohibited from landing in Hong Kong for 14 days from midnight of Apr 20, the advisory read.

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 “The Consulate therefore urges the public to make the necessary adjustment to their travel plans including cancellation or postponement of non-essential travel to the Philippines at this time,” the advisory said.

In Manila, a domestic helper posted a comment on The SUN’s Facebook page about how unfair the ban was on her and others who were just waiting to fly out to Hong Kong.

“The flight ban is too unfair for us domestic helpers who are just waiting for our flight schedule this week, then we read this news. It’s so disappointing,” the worker said.

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“We had been in a lockdown here in Manila for more than a month, we were unable to submit our visa and contract at POEA due to the lockdown here, the as soon as it has been downgraded to MGCQ, it’s you in Hong Kong who suspend out flight,” she said.

The worker said OFWs should be vaccinated before they leave because they go through a lot of hardships waiting for their documents before their departure date.

“They should have made the flight ban just for a week, two week is too much as our brains would be too depressed. We almost don’t know where to get money for our budget for daily food,” she said.


She said many OFWs like her who came from neighboring provinces have no money to pay for their boarding houses.

She said during their pre-departure orientation seminar arranged by different agencies, everyone was hopeful they could leave soon because their families rely on the money they would send home, and they have to repay the loans they used to pay the agencies.

The worker, a single mother, said her greatest fear now is that her employer might back out because the woman is expecting her baby sometime next month.

Tunghayan ang isa na namang kwentong 

Another worker said she was in the same situation, as her employer is due to give birth in June. She said she applied for the FDH job as early as last year but until now she was unable to leave for Hong Kong.

The workers said even their recruitment agencies in Manila were very eager to see them fly out. One said her agency helped her buy lots of ginger to prepare herself for the pre-departure swab test, and vitamin C to boost her immune system.

Ong says her travel business would be hit hard by the flight suspension

Cora Ong, manager of Tri-D Travel, said her air ticketing business had been affected by suspension of flights from Manila since the Covid-19 crisis began. She expects zero income now because of the flight ban.

“We’re also affected but what can we do? It’s a government policy,” Ong said.

She said ticketing orders by employment agencies have softened to about 20 to 30 a month because processing has slowed.

She said most of the ticket purchases are Hong Kong-bound, meant for new hires and those who had been terminated, gone home and are coming back to join new employers.

“Very few of the workers who are already here don’t want to go home for a vacation because the hotel quarantine is a big burden that the employer certainly doesn’t like,” Ong said.

She said her cargo company, Asian Dragon, still has modest income from the door-to-door business, but, from the ticketing operation it’s minimal. “If it’s a total ban, then we’ll have zero income from ticketing,” she said.

Ong said her company’s current worry is that Hong Kong might follow Macau in implementing a 28-day quarantine. “If they make the quarantine period 28 days, then the helpers won’t be able to go home for a vacation,” she said.


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