Hong Kong scraps plan for compulsory vaccines for domestic workers

Foreign domestic workers queue for Covid-19 tests in the Central district of Hong Kong on May 2, 2021.
Foreign domestic workers queue for Covid-19 tests in the Central district of Hong Kong on May 2, 2021.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

HONG KONG (BLOOMBERG) - Hong Kong backtracked on a plan to require foreign domestic workers to be vaccinated to secure work visas, caving in to criticism that the policy was discriminatory.

The Asian financial hub's authorities reached out to the Indonesian and Philippines consulates and decided not to pursue such a requirement, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said at a regular briefing on Tuesday (May 11).

"If we use compulsory vaccination, we will face a series of problems, including legal problems," Mrs Lam told reporters.

"So the government decided not to carry out the requirement for foreign domestic helpers to have compulsory vaccination when applying for work visa permits."

The flip-flop is the latest in a string of sudden policy changes for Lam's administration as it seeks to keep virus infections to almost zero.

While the changes have triggered confusion and complaints, the city has handled the pandemic relatively well compared with other major cities, with fewer than 12,000 total cases reported since the pandemic began.

But Mrs Lam added that foreign domestic workers will need to undergo a second round of tests by May 30. There are more than 370,000 foreign domestic workers, accounting for about 5 per cent of the population, in Hong Kong.

The city's administration had floated the policy idea late last month after a small outbreak of a Covid-19 variant infected some domestic workers.

Authorities announced then that foreign domestic workers would need to undergo mandatory testing, and the city eventually tested around 340,000 foreign domestic workers - with the rest exempted because they received two doses of a Covid-19 vaccine.

The mass testing exercise uncovered three positive cases, Mrs Lam said.

Last month's announcement of the mandatory vaccination plan sparked a backlash from workers groups, residents and consulates that the policy was discriminatory. That led to Mrs Lam saying last week that the government would review the policy.

On Tuesday, Mrs Lam said the city's precautions successfully prevented variants of concern from spreading in Hong Kong.

"It looks like the worrying mutant strain has not taken root and spread in our community," she said. "However we will not let our guard down."