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Covid-19 interrupts migrant workers’ leisure pursuits

08 April 2020

By Vir B. Lumicao

Group hikes such as this are no longer allowed under government restrictions on social distancing

Leisure activities of Filipino migrants in Hong Kong on their rest days have been thrown off-track by the coronavirus epidemic, reflecting the havoc that the contagion has played on individual and group pursuits and pastimes in the city.

The stoppage became official on Mar 28 when the Leisure and Cultural Services Department announced the closure of all its free outdoor leisure facilities in view of social distancing measures adopted by the government to help contain the infection.

Outdoor facilities that the LCSD closed down include soccer pitches, basketball courts, volleyball courts, handball courts, badminton courts, barbecue sites, cycling facilities except for cycle paths, and the Pui O campsite in Lantau.
The department had earlier closed beaches and indoor venues that the public frequent on weekends and public holidays as part of the government’s bid to stop Covid-19 from spreading.

Hit by the closures were migrant worker sports groups including SCC Divas, the first all-Filipino domestic worker cricket team globally and Fate, a powerhouse softball team also made up of OFWs.

Divas, which has been the champion in the Hong Kong cricket women’s development league for the past two seasons, has seen its campaign this season in the premier league cancelled due to the Covid-19 emergency measures.

Divas' Arimas  hiking with a friend in Tai Lam: It may take awhile before they go this way again
“Abandoned na ang mga laro sa Hong Kong. Di natapos ang league, next season na lang daw sa September,” Divas founder and captain Josie Arimas said on Apr 8.

The only completed fixture this season was the T10 women’s tournament that was won by KCC Maidens, and in which Divas placed sixth, Arimas said.
But the women’s premier league and the women’s development league, two tournaments in which Divas plays, have been abandoned for this season, Cricket Hong Kong said in an advisory to all clubs on Apr 2.

The women’s T20 league has been suspended, and Cricket Hong Kong said “an elimination match and the final may be played if grounds are opened by May. If this is not possible, the league will be abandoned.”

Softball pitches are also closed.
Gaborno (leftmost) misses these warm-ups and playing softball games with fellow Fate players 
Fate, last season’s champion in the Hong Kong Softball Association women’s Bracket B league, has had no matches since anti-Covid measures were adopted in early February, said founder and team captain Don Gaborno.

Playing in Bracket A last year, Fate managed to win just one match against top Hong Kong teams whose players included members of the city’s national team.

“Hoping this season makabawi sana kami. May mga game schedule na sana kami, na-cancel lang dahil sa Covid,” Gaborno said.

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“May 3 may schedule kami. Sana OK na at ma-stop na itong virus. Mag-3 weeks na kaming di maka-training dahil closed,” said Gaborno, who is also the team’s pitcher.

Athletes like Gaborno and Arimas as well as their players used to go to the pitches to practice whenever they get a break from their daily work, but they admit the “stay at home” measure of the government has also grounded most of them.

“Nasanay kaming nasa field every Sunday. Kaya parang naging hobby namin for now ay home exercise muna para di ma-stock ang mga kaugatan namin,” the captain said.

Arimas said most of her players are unable to go hiking, for now the only outdoor activity that migrant workers can engage in, given the social distancing protocol of allowing only up to four people to gather in public places.

However, the players cannot go out without their employers’ consent.
Gaborno and the team usually go out hiking when the softball season is over or during holiday breaks. She said the last time they hit the trails was in January, when they trekked the Tung Chung-Ngong Ping trail in Lantau.

Some dedicated hiking groups still manage to climb Hong Kong’s hills and mountains but in smaller packs. Even then, this activity was curtailed by recent rains and, worse, job losses related to Covid-19 and “stay at home” restrictions.  

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