HONG KONG - The authorities in Hong Kong will lift a ban on foreign domestic helpers from the Philippines and Indonesia entering the city if they have been vaccinated against Covid-19.
But they will have to return in batches to ensure that the public healthcare system and quarantine facilities are not overloaded.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said on Tuesday (Aug 24) that details of the plan, including recognition of helpers' vaccination records from the two countries, will be announced this week.
Speaking at her weekly briefing, Mrs Lam noted that the two countries are in the high-risk category for Covid-19 and that vaccinated visitors from those places need to undergo 21 days of quarantine.
"The number of foreign domestic helpers who could come back to Hong Kong through this special arrangement has to be rationed, has to be controlled," she said.
"We could not allow thousands of foreign domestic helpers to come in every week. Otherwise, the chance of having more confirmed cases, either discovered at the airport or during the quarantine period, would overload the Hong Kong public hospital system."
The government will designate a specific hotel for these helpers to serve their quarantine. It will be a different hotel from those in a designated list for other passengers arriving in Hong Kong to serve their quarantine.
"Right now, we have secured one with about 400 hotel rooms. We will try to get another one later on as the helpers come back in phases," Mrs Lam said, adding that it will take time for the helpers to come back in an orderly manner.
She appealed to the employers of these foreign domestic helpers to "be more patient with the system" as there are a few thousand of them stranded in the Philippines and Indonesia, who will not be able to return to Hong Kong in a very short time.
There has been a shortage of maids in Hong Kong after flights from the Philippines and Indonesia were banned in April and June, respectively, following a surge in coronavirus infections in the two countries.
On Sunday, Philippine Labour Secretary Silvestre Bello III said that as many as 3,000 helpers from the Philippines will be able to enter Hong Kong soon.
Public broadcaster RTHK reported that Mr Thomas Chan, chairman of the Hong Kong Union of Employment Agencies, said that as many as 8,000 helpers have received visas to work in Hong Kong.
Of these, more than half are said to have taken two doses of a Covid-19 vaccine and are thus eligible to come to Hong Kong once the arrangements are sorted out.
Meanwhile, Mrs Lam also touched on the city's unsatisfactory vaccination rate.
So far, more than half the population of 7.5 million in the city have had their first dose of Covid-19 vaccine, while over 40 per cent have taken both jabs.
In the strongest signal to the private sector, Mrs Lam said employees ought to be required to be inoculated.
"If they could not or refuse to vaccinate, then at least they should be required to produce on a very regular basis a negative Covid-19 test in order to enable them to continue to work," she said.
"Otherwise, we will not be assured - if there is a confirmed case, there will be infections being spread in the Hong Kong community."
Hong Kong has so far recorded more than 12,000 confirmed cases and 212 deaths from Covid-19 - numbers that are among the lowest globally.