Macau ordered any resident who holds a Philippine passport to take a daily nucleic acid test, with officials singling them out as more at risk for infection even though they account for a small number of cases in a Covid-19 wave that’s abating.
The testing regimen will start Friday, health official Leong Iek Hou said at a briefing Thursday. Government data show Filipinos have accounted for 9.5% of the city’s total Covid cases this outbreak, Leong said.
“Our epidemiology research found they tend to have more gatherings, like meetings among friends,” Leong said. “It’s likely that they have more interactions within their own ethnicity, so we need to find out whether there are hidden sources of infections among them via frequent testing.”
Macau’s push echoes Hong Kong’s insistence in May last year that all foreign domestic helpers – the majority of whom are women from the Philippines – had to be tested for Covid after a variant was detected in a worker. Officials in the financial hub said the cohort’s tendency to gather with friends on their day off risked cross-family infection, but it sparked criticism about the discriminatory policy that saw no other occupational group need to undergo testing.
It’s not the first time Macau has used ethnicity to define a high-risk group. In October last year, local authorities ordered foreign workers from Nepal and Vietnam to do a Covid test every other day for a total of four times. At the beginning of the latest outbreak, those who hold a Myanmar passport were required to be tested.
As of July 2021, there were more than 28,000 Filipino workers in Macau, typically employed in tourism, gaming, hospitality, or as domestic helpers, according to the Philippine government’s official news agency.
Macau-based lawyer Paulo Carochas said in a Facebook post that the government’s decision to include Filipinos as a key group and require daily testing is “absolutely illegal, unreasonable and profoundly racist.” Carochas said he would offer his services to the local Philippine consulate for free if they wish to take legal action.
“Let’s avoid making this a political issue,” the Philippine consulate general in Macau said in a Facebook post, pointing to previous occasions when authorities had focused on specific nationalities. The measure should be taken as a health issue to achieve the Covid Zero target, it said, advising Filipinos in Macau to be calm and understanding.
Philippine Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Eduardo Menez said he “will confer with the relevant offices to seek a response.”
Macau has identified seven other high-risk groups who need to take daily tests, including foreign domestic helpers who don’t live with their employers, cleaners, security guards, public transport drivers, property managers, delivery staff and those who work in the food and drinks businesses.
The gambling hub is set to allow some businesses, including casinos, to resume on Saturday following an almost two-week shutdown that saw residents banned from leaving home unless necessary. While gaming venues can open, with conditions, bars, cinemas and nightclubs will remain shut and dining-in services at restaurants suspended.
Macau’s target is to get local infections to stay near zero for weeks, a prerequisite to restart quarantine-free travel with mainland China, the largest source of the enclave’s tourism. The current outbreak is easing, with the city reporting just five new cases. –BLOOMBERG