Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said Thursday the government was checking if there would be aneed to impose a travel ban on Hong Kong, now on its fifth COVID-19 wave due to the more transmissible Omicron variant.
In an interview on Super Radyo dzBB, Duque said: “We will check because what is frightening in Hong Kong is that many of their senior citizens are not yet vaccinated. Only around 30 percent of them have, that’s why you could see the patients already outside of hospitals.”
He said Hong Kong had a bigger problem with senior citizens than the Philippines, adding “Senior citizens there really don’t want to get vaccinated, and only a few of them have. Maybe 90 percent of those getting hospitalized are elderly.”
Several overseas Filipino workers in Hong Kong who got infected with the virus were among those forced to wait outside hospitals for treatment as medical facilities are at full capacity.
Meanwhile, the Philippines opened its borders for business and leisure travelers starting February 10, for the first time in two years since the pandemic hit.
“For the vaccinated, the protocols remain. They have to present a pre-departure test within 48 hours. If they test negative, our airport
would allow them entry regardless of whatever country they come from,” Duque said.
“If there is no test, they will be barred entry. If they tested negative but are unvaccinated, they have to undergo quarantine,” Duque said.
Earlier on, the Philippines mulled the possibility of sending a medical team to Hong Kong to assist overseas Filipino workers who have tested positive for COVID-19, the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration said.
“[Labor Secretary Silvestre III] Bello said this is what we are planning [to do]…Some of our OFWs are in the isolation facility by the Hong Kong authorities. So, there must also be coordination, proper coordination with the Hong Kong authorities,” OWWA administrator Hans Leo Cacdac said.
As of Wednesday, Cacdac said eight out of 76 OFWs who have been infected with COVID-19 were confined in hospitals.
“Eight are in the hospital, admitted to the hospital and all the rest are in isolation facilities. It’s either they are in employer’s home isolation—mostly in employer’s home isolation—or Hong Kong government isolation or in non-government organization isolation,” he added.
He said the Philippine government had so far provided food, hygiene kits, and power banks to affected OFWs.
“And then, of course, when they are out of the hospital and have recovered they will receive $200 financial assistance…If they want to go back to the Philippines, we will provide them with livelihood assistance, and if they have college level-dependents, they will be given scholarship contracts,” the OWWA chief said.
Cacdac reiterated that employers who would fire sick OFWs in Hong Kong would face labor cases and sanctions.
“The possible sanction will be a labor case if they terminate our OFWs. The next one will be on the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration. Secretary Bello declared that employers who have treated our workers like that will be blacklisted,” he said.
Cacdac added that these employers would also face penalties by the host territory.
“On the Hong Kong side, the labor authorities said that’s illegal termination and then, here on the POEA, the blacklisting of employers who carry out illegal termination,” he added.