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Sailor found positive for mutant strain forces ship quarantine of 20 crewmen

Posted on 03 December 2021 No comments

By The SUN 

20 sailors have been quarantined aboard Glory Sky after one crew tested positive for Covid-19

A cargo ship crew who fell ill while on the high seas was confirmed today, Dec 3, to be infected with coronavirus with the L452R mutant strain, prompting Hong Kong health authorities to quarantine his 20 fellow seamen on board the vessel.

The 51-year-old seafarer had no symptoms when he arrived in Hong Kong on board the Glory Sky, which arrived in Hong Kong from Japan on Dec 1, but subsequently fell ill.

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He is one of today’s three imported Covid-19 cases.

Preliminary investigations revealed the Glory Sky entered Hong Kong for cargo operations. None of its crew went ashore after arrival and no local persons boarded the vessel after it entered Hong Kong waters, the Centre for Health Protection said.

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The patient was sent to hospital for isolation and treatment while the remaining sailors were placed in quarantine on board the vessel. The CHP said the crew will be required to undergo tests in accordance with existing quarantine protocols.

Two women who flew in from Korea and Singapore tested positive on arrival

The two other imported cases are women. One of them, aged 23, was asymptomatic when she arrived via Asiana flight OZ721 from Seoul. She received two doses of BioNTech vaccine in Korea on Aug 20 and Oct 1.

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The other woman, aged 28, was already showing symptoms when she arrived from the United States on Singapore Air flight SQ007 also on Dec 1. She also received two doses of BioNTech vaccine in Hong Kong on Jun 23 and Jul 14.

The two women’s specimens taken at the airport tested positive for coronavirus with the L452R mutant strain.

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They took Hong Kong’s total Covid-19 tally to 12,448 confirmed cases and one probable case.

A total of 50 cases have been reported in the past 14 days to Dec 2 and all of them are imported cases.

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The Hospital Authority said a total of 52 confirmed patients are currently being treated in the North Lantau Hospital Hong Kong Infection Control Centre and the HA Infectious Disease Centre. All of them are reported to be in stable condition.

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Meanwhile, the CHP reminded specified persons who lived or visited for more than two hours Block 4, New Jade Garden, 233 Chai Wan Road, Chai Wan to go for compulsory testing tomorrow, Dec 4.

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The CHP's epidemiological investigations and relevant contact tracing on the confirmed cases are ongoing. For case details and contact tracing information, please see the Annex or the “Covid-19 Thematic Website” (www.coronavirus.gov.hk).

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Philippines sets longer hotel quarantine for arriving passengers

Posted on No comments

by Daisy CL Mandap 

The tighter rules apply to Filipinos in HK who will fly home over Christmas

Starting from today, Dec 3, all arriving passengers in the Philippines will have to present a negative result for an RT-PCR test done within 72 hours prior to departure before being allowed to board their flights in the place of origin.

Those who are fully vaccinated and come from places previously designated as green or yellow list (like Hong Kong) will have to stay in a quarantine hotel or facility and have another RT-PCR test done on the fifth, instead of the previous three, days.

This means being in isolation for at least six days, as a negative test result is required before the traveler is allowed to go spend the rest of the 14-day quarantine at home.

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Those who are unvaccinated, partially vaccinated or whose vaccination status cannot be independently confirmed, will have to stay in a quarantine facility until they test negative for an RT-PCR test conducted on their seventh, instead of the previous fifth, day in quarantine.

Once they obtain a negative test result, they will have to be under home quarantine for the remainder of the 14-day isolation period.

The tightened restrictions were announced by Cabinet Secretary and Acting Presidential Spokesperson Karlo Nograles in a statement issued Thursday night, following a meeting of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases.

Nograles says the stringent new rules take effect today, Dec 3

They were enhanced amid the continuing global scare over the emergence of a new coronavirus mutation called Omicron, which the World Health Organization has designated as a “variant of concern.”

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Nograles also said that the Department of Transportation (DOTRr) must ensure that airlines only allow passengers with the negative RT-PCR test result to board.

Testing and quarantine protocols for minors shall follow the restrictions place on the parent or guardian travelling with them, regardless of the minor’s vaccination status and country of origin.

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International passengers who have already arrived and are currently undergoing quarantine shall continue with the testing and quarantine protocols in place at the time of their arrival.

As announced previously, no tourists will be allowed in while the new restrictions remain in place, at least until Dec. 15.

Previously, everyone, Philippine nationals and tourists alike, who flew in from “green” places like Hong Kong could skip hotel quarantine if they were fully vaccinated and presented a negative test result prior to boarding.

Those who were unvaccinated or were unable to present a negative test result were required to spend at least three days in hotel quarantine, during which they would be tested before being allowed to spend the rest of their 14-day isolation at home.

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As a result of the Omnicron scare, several places where the new variant was detected were put in a “red” or high-risk list. Everyone from these places are not allowed entry, except Filipinos who are repatriated by the government or non-government organizations, or through Bayanihan flights.

The new rules now require such flights to land only at Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila, or at Clark International Airport.

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In a separate announcement, the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration said all overseas Filipino workers bound for any of these red countries will not be allowed to depart.

Those who come in through special flights will be required to stay in a quarantine facility for at least 14 days and should have tested negative for Covid-19 before being allowed to return home.

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The current red list which is valid from Nov. 28 to Dec. 15 includes South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, Austria, Czech Republic, Hungary, The Netherlands, Switzerland, Belgium, and Italy. 

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Filipina who fell to death was a new FDH, Consulate says

Posted on No comments

 By Daisy CL Mandap 

The worker's body was found on the platform of a second-floor flat at 26 Possession Street

The 27-year-old Filipina who fell to her death from a hotel rooftop in Sheung Wan on Wednesday, Dec 1, was a foreign domestic helper who had been in Hong Kong for just four months.

This was according to Welfare Officer Virsie Tamayao of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, who declined to give any more details, saying the family of the deceased wanted to keep the matter private.

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There has been no intervention from an employer, indicating the worker may have been terminated before she met her tragic death.

Consul Paul Saret, head of the assistance to nationals section, confirmed receiving a report from the police about the death Wednesday afternoon. That was when they confirmed that the deceased was a FDH.

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ATN is working with the family in repatriating the remains, while OWWA has briefed them on benefits that are due them as the deceased was still an active member.

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Apart from burial and funeral assistance of Php120,000 the family could also look forward to receiving benefits from her mandatory assistance, which should be in force for her first two years of employment.

The young helper was said to have checked in as a guest at the 20-storey hotel in Sheung Wan the night before she fell.

Police told The SUN they received a report at about 1am on Dec 1 (They just clarified the date, saying the Nov 28 they gave earlier was a “typo error”) from residents in the area about a woman having fallen from the hotel rooftop.

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Her body was reportedly found lying next to the platform on the second floor of an apartment building at 26 Possession Street. She was certified dead at the scene and her remains were taken to a mortuary.

No suicide note was found, so police have classified her death as “falling from height” and are conducting further investigation. They took away some of her personal belongings from the hotel to look for clues.

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Anyone who feels depressed may visit OWWA's office on 29/F of United Centre Building, Admiralty, or the ATN section of the Consulate on 14/F of the same tower.

They may also call the hotline of ATN, 91554023 or OWWA, 6345 9324. 

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Those with suicidal tendencies can also call The Samaritans’ 24-hour hotline, 2896 0000, for free counseling.

 


FDH numbers fall further amid Covid-19 restrictions, visa refusals

Posted on 02 December 2021 No comments

By Vir B. Lumicao

FDHs waiting to process documents outside Immigration Tower in Wanchai (file)

Hong Kong’s foreign domestic helper population fell by 1,358 last month, obviously due to coronavirus-related slowing of worker arrivals and stricter immigration rules requiring helpers who prematurely terminate their contract to exit and apply for visa from home.

A big part of the decline must be due to the difficulty encountered by most inbound FDHs in booking a room at any of the three quarantine facilities designated for their use by the Hong Kong government. 

Both Filipino and Indonesian FDH population numbers had tumbled as of Nov 30 to 197,071 and 145,000, respectively, the latest figures from the Immigration Department show. 

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For the Philippines, the decline was 314; for Indonesia, it was a larger 957 drop.

Even India, the third-largest supplier of domestic workers to Hong Kong, saw its FDH population fall by 531 last month to 3,497, reflecting the pandemic restrictions. However, a total of 476 FDHs were added to the tally from countries designated only as "others" in the Immigration data.

Hong Kong’s total FDH population had fallen to 350,050 at the end of November from 351,408 a month earlier.

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In November, the Hong Kong government tightened further its policy against so-called “job-hopping” FDHs, those who are suspected of prematurely terminating their contracts to switch to employers who offer better deals.

According to Immigration Department figures, a total of 1,332 visa applications from suspected job hoppers were denied from January to September this year alone.

The number is said to be already four times the number of visa rejections made by Immigration for the whole of last year.

The policy has caught many pre-terminated Filipino workers in a bind when their work applications for their new employers were rejected by Immigration.

Chan says FDHs moving to third countries is also behind the continuing decline in their numbers

Thomas Chan, president of the Hong Kong Union of Employment Agencies, said the tightening of rules by the host government is behind the steady drop in the number of Filipino and Indonesian FDHs.

“Yes, the number of both Filipino and Indonesian dropped again for the month of November. I think it is the result of restrictions on new arrivals from these two countries,” Chan said.

He said contributing to the shrinking numbers are the usual reasons why FDHs decide to go home for good, as well as the growing number of those lured by offers of better-paying jobs in a third country.

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“The natural loss happens all the time because some FDHs will go home for marriage, health reasons or family problems,” said Chan.

“Another phenomenon people usually overlook…though it is illegal in the Philippines, third-country recruitment is quite active in Hong Kong, attracting lots of Philippine helpers to Poland, Turkey and Russia, in hopes of landing in Europe.”

The last factor is the refusal by Immigration to allow helpers to move from one employer to another without leaving Hong Kong, he said. The visa rejections, according to him, rose sharply starting in mid-October.

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In a recent letter, the Employment Agencies Administration reminded recruiters to strictly observe the anti-job hopping policy and not induce helpers to switch employers for financial reward.

The agency watchdog said the number of complaints against agencies that allegedly induced FDHs to job-hop has surged from 29 last year to 120 in January-September this year alone.

However, the EAA did not explain the wide gap between the number of visa applications rejected by Immigration and the so-called job-hopping cases.

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CHP says family of 8 from Pakistan may have spread virus on plane

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By The SUN 

CHP says a family of 8 spread the mutated virus to 3 other passengers on the plane

The Centre for Health Protection says cross-infection may have occurred aboard Emirates flight EK384 which arrived in Hong Kong on Nov 21 from Dubai, from where 12 confirmed cases have been found, 11 of them apparently linked, including eight members of one family.

“The CHP cannot rule out the possibility that the family cluster of eight cases may have spread the virus to other three cases by personal contact and share use of toilets in the aircraft,” said a statement released earlier tonight, Dec 2.

According to the CHP report, the genome sequencing analysis conducted by the Department of Health’s laboratory showed that some of the cases have identical genetic sequences, “suggesting that the three clusters are likely to be epidemiologically linked.”

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The family of eight, which included several children as young as one year old, reportedly boarded the flight in Pakistan, which then passed through Bangkok, Thailand, and then Dubai, United Arab Emirates, before arriving in Hong Kong on Nov 21.

Three members of the family, two women aged 24 and 33, and a six-year-old boy, (cases 12411, 12412 and 12413) tested positive on their arrival test, so EK384 was barred from flying to Hong Kong for two weeks, from Nov 23 to Dec 6.

The rest of the family members were moved to Penny’s Bay Quarantine Centre as close contacts, where five more (12437, 12438, 12439, 12443 and 12447) have been confirmed to have Covid-19 with the L452R mutant strain of the Delta variant.

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Of the three other cases, patient 12420 boarded the flight in Bangkok and tested positive during quarantine at a designated quarantine hotel after arrival.

The two other cases involved a couple from India via Dubai (case 12429 tested positive during quarantine at a designated quarantine hotel; while case 12434 tested positive after being moved to Penny’s Bay).

“According to the genetic sequencing analysis by the (DH laboratory) these 11 patients were found to be carrying the L452R mutant strain,” said the CHP.

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“The whole genome sequencing analysis completed today also confirmed that it belonged to the Delta variant and that cases 12413, 12420, 12429, 12434, 12437 and 12438 have identical genetic sequences, suggesting that these six patients are likely to be epidemiologically linked.”

There were a total of 74 passengers in the flight, said the CHP. Of the 11 infected, two were in the business cabin while the other nine were in economy class.

There was another confirmed case from the same flight (12423), which was, however, unrelated to the cluster.

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“As of now, 57 passengers are still undergoing quarantine at designated quarantine hotels. They tested negative by three tests already conducted as of yesterday (the eleventh day),” said the statement.

Given the high rate of infection among passengers on the flight, the CHP said it increase the number of tests for those still under quarantine, including “parallel testing” on the 19th day to further verify their negative test results before being released from isolation.

In addition, a local-based aircrew on the flight who should have completed his self-isolation on Nov 27 in line with his quarantine-exempt status has been sent to Penny’s Bay for quarantine until Dec 12.

All the other flight crew are not based in Hong Kong, and have already left. The CHP said it has informed the Airport Authority and Emirates about its findings, and suggested the close monitoring of the health conditions of the concerned aircrew and for the plane to be disinfected thoroughly.

The CHP said it will also ensure that the quarantine hotels where the other passengers are staying comply with the infection control requirements at all times. 

As the 11 cases were all detected during arrival tests at the airport or during quarantine at designated hotels and at Penny’s Bay, there has not been a spread in the community, said the CHP.

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