Coronavirus: nearly 100 additional hotel rooms for quarantine of domestic workers will be added as a matter of urgency to alleviate the crisis

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Hong Kong is adding nearly 100 additional quarantine rooms for incoming domestic workers, bringing the total available to around 2,000 as the city seeks to alleviate its shortage of aid.

The Courtyard by Marriott Hong Kong Sha Tin has been added to the quarantine program and will provide 500 additional rooms at a price of HK $ 650 (US $ 83) per night. But the Silka Tsuen Wan Hotel, which previously provided 409 rooms for inbound helpers, will be moved to other quarantine purposes from December 1, the Labor Department said.

The designated quarantine places for domestic helpers also include the government facility at Penny’s Bay on Lantau Island and the Rambler Garden Hotel in Tsing Yi, which offers 500 rooms.

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The changes mean that starting December 8, there will be a total of 2,000 slots available for fully vaccinated foreign domestic workers entering the city.

Recruitment agencies had previously said existing niches were nowhere near enough to cope with the large backlog of helpers – some 6,000 – waiting in the Philippines and Indonesia to come to work in Hong Kong. The shortage of inbound workers caused by previous flight bans in the two countries had sparked a bidding war between employers for aid services already in the city.

Hong Kong confirmed just one new case of Covid-19 on Friday, a case imported from Britain involving a mutant strain of the virus. The case brought the city’s total number of confirmed cases to 12,378.

Separately, University of Hong Kong microbiologist Yuen Kwok-yung insisted on Friday that his idea of ​​introducing a vaccine pass for entry into public places would help the city reopen its borders. , despite criticism suggesting that residents’ freedoms would be compromised.

Noting the daily increase in local cases in mainland China, Yuen cited the old Chinese proverb that “a protracted defense strategy always leads to defeat.”

“It should be obvious to everyone that our current strategy is not a viable option in the long term,” he said. “We now have almost zero cases for six months, [time] that should have been used strategically to prepare us to open up to the continent and the world so that we can survive and compete as an international city.

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Complete vaccination of the population was currently the “only viable option” to open the border safely with mainland China and the world, Yuen said.

Rather than releasing the vaccines to the public, he suggested setting a date in March when residents should receive their first two shots, and another in July to receive a booster.

For the unvaccinated, a negative self-funded Covid-19 test or a certificate of recovery from the infection could also allow them to enter public places. The information could be saved in the “Leave Home Safe” contact tracing application.

The quarantine could then be reduced to just 48 hours for fully vaccinated international travelers, provided they are confirmed to have antibodies and have tested negative three times during isolation, Yuen said. They could then roam freely around the city, but would have to perform daily tests and be monitored by “more powerful” devices for 21 days.

A tennis player scans the Leave Home Safe QR code before entering Victoria Park Center Court.  Photo: Xiaomei Chen

While supporting the use of a vaccine pass, Calvin Ho Wai-loon, associate professor of law at the University of Hong Kong, suggested that some emergency places, such as hospitals, should be exempted.

“For schools and other public places, I think that’s reasonable,” Ho told a radio show on Friday. “If there is such regulation in law, it is reasonable unless the policy or measures can provide a clear rationale.”

The Hong Kong government should balance the freedoms of residents and the interests of society when introducing the initiative, he added.

Ho, who is also a member of a World Health Organization task force to develop anti-pandemic tools, said the global body did not have a clear position on vaccination passes because he was worried about the lack of doses in the poorest countries.

“I think Professor Yuen’s suggestion is not unreasonable. Scientific data has proven that vaccination is safe for humans. I believe this is a measure to encourage everyone to take the vaccine, but does not force them to do so, ”he said, adding that residents have a civic responsibility to get tested if they choose not to be vaccinated.

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Meanwhile, Cathay Pacific is reviewing its medical surveillance procedures, as it attempts to deal with the threat of a tightening of quarantine exemptions for cargo pilots.

Existing government guidelines on the medical surveillance of crews exempt from quarantine state that staff “must take all precautionary measures to ensure personal hygiene and avoid unnecessary social contact in Hong Kong.”

Mark Hoey, Cathay’s chief operating officer, said it was appropriate for the airline to revise its own rules for medical surveillance for staff.

“I believe the intention is to isolate yourself as best you can and not get involved in community activities, team sports and instead exercise alone or within the family unit.” Hoey said of government rules.

“Recent events indicate that the first post-flight test must be cleared before the scale of close contact increases and becomes a major concern of community transmission if a positive test is returned.”

Additional reporting by Danny Lee

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