MANILA, Philippines – While Philippine officials and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have aided Filipinos affected by Hong Kong’s fifth COVID-19 wave, the Philippine government must still do better in tending to those requiring immediate assistance, a group said.
In a Malacañang briefing on Tuesday, February 22, Philippine Consul General in Hong Kong Raly Tejada reported that all 61 Filipinos in the territory who tested positive for COVID-19 during the current surge are “all safe and have received medical attention.”
The government gave the assurance following reports that OFWs in Hong Kong were sleeping in parks after their employers kicked them out for testing positive for COVID-19.
However, according to the United Filipinos in Hong Kong (UNIFIL-HK) chair Dolores Balladares Pelaez, not all of the workers were attended to immediately.
“May mga tumatawag sa amin kasi ang hotline ng consulate is very poor. May mga tawag na hindi nasasagot. Mayroon akong kausap na positive na hindi alam ang gagawin,” Pelaez told Rappler in a WhatsApp call. (There are some calling us because the consulate’s hotline is very poor. There are calls that go unanswered. I talked to someone who was COVID-positive and didn’t know what to do.)
Because of this, some NGOs end up becoming first responders. But most of them, especially those that are not shelters, can only refer their requests to the Philippine consulate in Hong Kong.
“Ina-anticipate namin with the increasing COVID-19 ngayon ay dadami pa ‘yung magkakaproblema. Kaya kami ding mga organizations, mga institutions ay nagtutulong-tulong,” she said. (W the increasing COVID-19 cases, we are anticipating that there will be more OFWs who will face problems. That’s why we organizations and institutions are helping each other.)
Pelaez said the Bethune House shelter for migrant workers in distress was already full as of Monday evening. Shelters are also taking in workers of other nationalities apart from Filipinos.
On February 19, Bethune House and other charities witnessed domestic workers who were “preliminary positive” and were left in the cold the for two to three days.
“They were unfortunately rejected by their employers. These workers are left with no support on the street overnight and with some stranded inside the hospitals,” Bethune House said.
Hong Kong to give OFWs free COVID-19 assistance
Tejada said on Tuesday that the Hong Kong government through its labor department assured the consulate that it would provide free medical attention and isolation facilities to OFWs.
“Nagpahayag po ang Hong Kong government kani-kanina lamang, they reassured us of their support. Lahat ng magkakasakit na Pilipino dito sa Hong Kong ay ipagagamot nila at bibigyan ng isolation facility,” Tejada said. (The Hong Kong government earlier today reassured us of their support. All Filipinos who will get sick in Hong Kong will be offered medical aid and isolation facilities.)
The Philippines’ Department of Labor and Employment said that of the 60 recorded cases among OFWs during Hong Kong’s fifth wave, 49 were asymptomatic and in community isolation, nine were symptomatic and admitted in hospitals, while two have recovered as of Tuesday. The DOLE also said it provided food, medicines, power banks, and $200 (P10,000) in cash aid to those affected.
Rights groups also reported that some OFWs were illegally terminated for contracting COVID-19, but Tejada said that these were three to five – a “minority.” He added that these terminated workers were taken back by their employers or are in boarding houses.
Pelaez said authorities in the Philippines and the host country need to think beyond the fifth COVID-19 wave in providing more shelters for OFWs in distress.
“One of the biggest problems is dealing with where to put terminated workers because lodging is expensive here. The weather is also very cold now, and COVID-19 restrictions limit mobility,” Pelaez said in Filipino.
“In the long run, we urge the consulate and the Hong Kong government to have temporary accommodation for domestic workers because it is very limited now,” she added.
The Philippine consulate general said it was “ready to respond to all concerns” of the Filipino community. OFWs in need of assistance can dial its 24/7 hotline at 9155-4023. Meanwhile, UNIFIL-HK can be reached at +852-9747-2986. – Rappler.com