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Catholic bishop questions mandatory vaccination for migrant workers in Hong Kong

Philippine Bishop Ruperto Santo said the "personal health and consent of persons” should be taken into consideration prior to vaccination

A Catholic bishop in the Philippines questioned the move in Hong Kong to require mandatory vaccination for foreign workers.

“We must take into consideration personal health and consent of persons,” said Bishop Ruperto Santos of the Philippines’ Episcopal Commission on the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People.

“It should never be forced and no one should be coerced,” he said, even as he added that vaccination is “our frontline defense against COVID-19” and to be vaccinated is “our lasting service for all, that is, we keep them protected from coronavirus.”

He said Filipino workers in Hong Kong should not be “singled out or labeled as dangerous or potential carriers” of the coronavirus disease.

The bishop’s call came as Hong Kong announced that it is reviewing a decision to make COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for foreign domestic workers.

“After listening to voices in the society, I have requested the Labour and Welfare Bureau to review the justification, feasibility, and discuss with experts including consulates of relevant countries where the foreign domestic helpers mainly come from,” said Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam on April 4.

Hong Kong officials announced last week that they would require foreign domestic workers, many of whom come from the Philippines and Indonesia, to undergo COVID-19 tests and get vaccinated if they wanted to renew their contracts.

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Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said the move “smacks of discrimination,” adding that Filipinos should not be singled out for vaccination.

“Though the effect is good and saving, still marking them out smacks of discrimination and if it is a special favor, it is unfair to other nationalities,” added the Philippine official.

Cynthia Tellez of the Mission for Migrant Workers in Hong Kong also called the policy “very discriminatory.”

“First and foremost, having to be tested and to be vaccinated is very important for us. I think it is very good, except when you make it mandatory,” said Tellez. “It sounds like this group of people are the carriers.”

Rights activists also criticized the vaccination drive for migrant workers, saying the government had stigmatized the group and created a perception its members were carriers of COVID-19.

Eman Villanueva, spokesman for the Asian Migrants Coordinating Body, said the move was discriminatory, adding that vaccination should not be the basis for renewing work contracts.

As of Sunday, more than 952,000 people, or 12.7 percent of Hong Kong’s population, had received their first dose of a coronavirus vaccine. Of those, nearly 540,000 had also received their second.

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