Crowd ban not hard to accept Hong Kong’s migrant workers say

Foreign domestic workers take a much needed break on their day off somewhere in Central.

HONG KONG (SE): Filipino community members said the new crowd ban has not affected their days-off as some have already stopped big gatherings since the suspension of Church activities in February following the Covid-19 coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) outbreak, while some had started to stay at their employers’ home as a way to pray more during Lent. 

To keep a lid on the outbreak in the city, the Hong Kong government imposed a four-person crowd limit for indoor or outdoor public gatherings. Under the ban, people could be arrested and be fined up to $25,000 if they breach the limit. The ban took effect for two weeks from the midnight of March 29. 

Mitch de la Cruz, a member of the catechism team of the chaplaincy for Filipino migrants, said she was not affected by ban. Ever since the suspension of Masses and Church activities in mid-February, she had started to enjoy her holiday with three other members of the group. The group has around 20 members together but now she only gathers with the closest ones.

They usually gather to pray at Divine Mercy Chapel, in Tin Hau, and walk along the seaside for some fresh air. She said her employer does not stop her from going out and only tells her to avoid crowded places. She said gathering with her friends is important for her as they are her teachers and advisors, supporting her in her life overseas.

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Amy Ramirez of the Holy Family parish, said she prefers to stay at home, read the Bible and watch the Mass online, which is especially important in Lent and Easter.

She is provided with her own room where she can rest and pray quietly. She said she started staying in at the beginning of the outbreak. Some of her friends also stopped going out after the Philippine Consulate General made an appeal for Filipinos to stay at home.

The consulate general made a strong appeal to the Filipino community to stay at home whenever possible and, if there is a need to go out, to make sure to avoid crowded places and practise social distancing.

As of March 26, a total of 16 Filipinos had tested positive for the virus and were undergoing treatment in different hospitals. 

Migrant groups distributed leaflets in Central on March 29 informing foreign domestic workers who were there of the new regulations.

Eman Villanueva, secretary general of the United Filipinos in Hong Kong, said that when he approached workers in Central, most were already informed of the regulations and were generally complying by gathering in groups of no more than four and farther apart.

However, at the same time, he observed that the number of people in Central had decreased sharply and Chater Road, a popular place for workers to spend their days off, was nearly empty.

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He worried that more workers would be denied holidays and told to stay at home should the outbreak worsen and urged employers to respect labour rights and give their workers a weekly day off in flexible ways.

“They can remind workers to avoid crowded places, follow health and hygiene guidelines. If Sundays are not really possible, at least give them one rest day a week on another day,” he said.

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