Quarantine rules for domestic helpers may be revised to ban employers from isolating at home 10,000 workers expected to fly into Hong Kong from the Philippines in the coming weeks, the city’s labour minister has revealed, as he warned the influx could bring in an estimated 65 imported Covid-19 cases.
Secretary for Welfare and Labour Law Chi-kwong’s remarks came as Hong Kong on Saturday reached two weeks without any locally transmitted cases of Covid-19. One imported case involving a 39-year-old woman arriving from the Philippines was reported, taking the city’s infection tally to 1,197.
The city has been hit by a surge of imported cases recently, recording 69 infections from residents returning from abroad this week, mostly from Pakistan. Nine cases were from the Philippines.
Law ruled out subsidising employers to find other accommodation for their helpers or providing government facilities, saying such moves would go against the city’s efforts to contain the virus.
“We really want to help, but any way which will directly or indirectly encourage the movement of domestic helpers from Hong Kong to their homeland or from their homeland back to Hong Kong is not consistent with our policy to restrict such movement to reduce the risk of spread of the virus,” he said.
Hong Kong has an overall capacity of 2,323 units in three official quarantine centres, but on Friday, the government announced the largest of them, the public housing Chun Yeung Estate in Fo Tan which provides 1,739 places, will cease operations in late July and take in tenants in August.
In view of the situation, Law said, his bureau was in talks with the Department of Health to add a condition in the quarantine orders for domestic helpers to stipulate they were not suitable for home quarantine.
“Because we have seen in the last month, Hongkongers coming back from the Philippines have a 0.65 per cent infection rate,” he said.
Citing an estimation that there might be as many as 10,000 workers arriving from the country in the short term, he said that would mean a possible 65 patients between them.
“If they are to be quarantined at home, then there will be a pretty high chance of them spreading the virus in the community. We think that will be suboptimal.”
The Hong Kong Union of Employment Agencies made the prediction last week of the arrival of 10,000 maids over the summer as governments in the Philippines and Indonesia gradually resumed normal operations and started to issue more travel permits.
Law pointed out the official quarantine spaces were insufficient to house all arrivals, but he said the Labour Department would provide information on cheap hotels to employers.
Meanwhile, a pilot study by Chinese University on the stool samples of 30 Covid-19 patients discovered “significant alterations” in faecal components when compared with those of nine pneumonia sufferers and 30 healthy individuals.
The research, published in the medical journal Gastroenterology on Saturday, found increased proportions of two categories of pathogens, Candida and Aspergillus, in samples collected from Covid-19 patients. Two respiratory illness-related pathogens – Aspergillus flavus and Aspergillus niger – could be detected up to 12 days after the patients’ nasal samples were cleared of the virus.
The researchers said further studies of how those microbiotic changes came about could shed light on the mechanisms of pathogenesis, and hold the key to “long-term monitoring” of Covid-19 patients.
Professor Ng Siew-chien, associate director of the university’s Centre for Gut Microbiota Research, said: “Stool test is a useful non-invasive test that can not only detect SARS-CoV-2 but also can help serve as biomarker for disturbed gut microbiota and immunity.”
Ng added that the academics were assessing the benefits of regular stool tests for the city’s Covid-19 patients, including how often and for how long they should be done.