Ban on tent use in public spaces floated to deter FDW gatherings

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The Labour Department distributed promotional leaflets on anti-epidemic measures to domestic workers at Tamar Park in Admiralty on Jan. 3, where tents were seen pitched. (COURTESY: Information Services Department/info.gov.hk)

A pro-Beijing lawmaker asked the government on Wednesday if it would ban pitching tents in public so foreign domestic workers will be dissuaded from gathering amid the Covid-19 epidemic.

Legislative Council member Wong Kwok-kin asked Labour and Welfare Secretary Law Chi-kwong if the government will consider “prohibiting any person from setting up tents in public places during the epidemic, so as to discourage FDHs from gathering and sharing meals in public places during weekends and holidays.”

In his written response, Law said members of the public are allowed to use “light appliances for shade” during the daytime in parks under the Leisure and Cultural Services Department’s purview.

The Labour chief said beefed up operations in FDW haunts such as parks during holidays helped reinforce social distancing measures, adding that authorities apprehended those who violate anti-epidemic rules.

As of Jan. 10, authorities have issued 81 fixed penalty tickets to foreign domestic workers who violated the two-person group gathering limit and 18 tickets for those who flouted mask-wearing rules in public.

But the Labour Secretary continued to appeal to the public to cooperate and to practice discipline even with heightened enforcement.

“Same as other anti-epidemic work related to public health, solely relying on implementing restrictions through legislation or increasing penalties would not be sufficient for suppressing the epidemic,” Law replied.

Law also ruled out repeated calls to implement mandatory Covid-19 testing for foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong. He wrote that the government should “carefully consider the justifications for implementing targeted mandatory measures.”

A number of foreign domestic workers also voluntarily got tested for Covid-19 based on figures from the government’s free testing services, Law said.

More than 25,000 FDWs reportedly got tested at community testing centres from Dec. 18, 2020 to Jan. 10 this year, while another 9,000 workers staying in boarding facilities of employment agencies from August to December 2020.

This follows a recent enquiry into anti-epidemic measures targeting foreign domestic workers, where pro-Beijing lawmaker Elizabeth Quat asked if the government can ban them from going out on weekends to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Quat also pointed to FDWs pitching tents in Tamar Park when she questioned government regulations on gatherings.

But Law rejected this, saying that the rate of infection of FDWs is much lower than the general public.