COVID-19: A look at how Hong Kong marginalized groups are fighting against the COVID-19 battle

As the fifth wave of the COVID-19 outbreak has virtually brought the city to its knees, Hong Kong is evidently still in the throes of the pandemic. The city logged peak COVID-19 cases this month, with the daily tally reaching over 50,000 cases almost a week ago. As there has been an increase in transmission, the city’s officials stand firm on achieving their “dynamic zero-COVID 19” policy.

The government has been under tight scrutiny for not preparing the city adequately for the fifth wave, which has had a substantial impact on the city’s underprivileged communities. They have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic-induced effects on the economy, coupled with stringent government regulations. Many minorities have gotten laid off and struggle to make ends meet. communities, including foreign domestic helpers, ethnic minorities, and refugees in Hong Kong barely received any support before the pandemic, and it just seems like the epidemic has only exacerbated their long-existing problem.

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Last month, the government ramped up its restrictions on social gatherings by imposing a two-person gathering cap as part of its more extensive plans to crack down on the city’s transmission clusters. A  $5,000 HKD fine was also in place for offenders that breached these measures. Just days after it was introduced, police authorities fined 17 people—all of them were the city’s foreign domestic helpers. Shortly after the local media reported on this, Hong Kongers organized a city-wide online fundraising campaign to raise money for the city’s foreign domestic helpers. Many argued that due to the lack of accessibility to government information, the domestic helpers weren’t fully kept abreast of the fast-evolving measures, especially when many locals find it hard to keep up with the changes. To put things into context, the minimum monthly salary of the domestic helpers is only $4,630 HKD—should the domestic helpers be fined, the financial pressure can be tremendous. 

Simranjit Kaur, a domestic helper from India said,

“The government measures are very confusing. It is like they change their measures every day, and you simply can’t keep up with the newest restrictions.”

However, this is only the tip of the iceberg to what the foreign domestic helpers have been subjected to throughout the city’s battle against COVID-19. Many domestic helpers have been fired by their employers as fear of transmission looms high. Unlike professional expats, domestic helpers don’t have a place of their own, so the detrimental effects of being laid off often mean that these helpers have to resort to public parks and benches for shelter—which have now been enclosed with barricades. 

Kaur’s ire over the government’s latest measures have prompted her to mull over if working in Hong Kong is the best for her, as restrictions seem to be “compounding” every day.

The government has taken more measures to safeguard Hong Kong’s image as an “international city,”—the secretary of Labour and Welfare wrote in his blog post that he vowed “full” support for the city’s helpers. He also warned employers of the possible repercussions they could face for dismissing infected domestic helpers—a hefty HK $10,000 fine. However, this only came as the government of the Philippines caught the light of the city’s treatment towards the helpers and demanded change. So, admittedly, the dire situation and the plight of domestic helpers is clear.

The situation hasn’t been any better for other communities, including refugees and ethnic minorities. Poverty has been high amongst ethnic minorities in the city as its workforce is primarily concentrated in blue-collar jobs, including positions as security guards, cleaners, and logistics workers. As Hong Kong’s economy has been hit hard by the pandemic, many have gotten laid off resorting to the government for financial assistance.

An Egyptian immigrant who is the owner of, Hummus and Olives, an Egyptian grocery shop in Tsim Sha Tsui, said, “The business before COVID-19 wasn’t ideal, and with COVID-19, there has been enormous financial pressure on me, and fewer people come to my shop.” She added,

“There has been very minimal support from the government, and it just feels like I am all on my own.”

The inside of Hummus and Olives (Photo Credits: Alysha Bibi)

The woes of refugees continue. Refugees in Hong Kong rely on just $3,000 HKD subsidies from the government and aren’t allowed to work under the current regulations. Buying masks, hand sanitizers, and rapid antigen tests have added further financial strain on them, especially with soaring food prices recently when Hong Konger flocked to supermarkets scraping for groceries over fears of a potential city-wide lockdown. According to Hong Kong’s Census and Statistics Department, compared to last year, the cost of food in the city has increased by 2.8% in January alone. Additionally, the Refugee Union stated that food prices soared by two times in February compared to January, following days of panic-buying last month. 

Although the situation remains dire,  a number of local organizations and charities have stepped up their efforts in assisting the most vulnerable during these trying times. Here is a short guide of organizations you can donate to that have done great work in helping disadvantaged communities through their powerful initiatives.

The Amber Foundation

One of the Amber Foundation’s initiatives calls for repurposing airline kits, and hotel toiletries for street sleepers, women in shelters, refugees, and the elderly in Hong Kong, especially as many of them struggle to pay for their daily necessities. The Foundation has 16 collection points across the city where people can go and donate travel-size soap, shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, and body lotion, all of which must be unopened and unused. They have partnered with many charity organizations, including Feeding Hong Kong, Help for Domestic Helpers as well as Mission for Migrant Workers. All of the distributed items to the Foundation are then sent to these partnered charity organizations who work on helping the city’s most vulnerable. For donation purposes, you can directly contact the Amber Foundation!

Feeding Hong Kong

Hong Kong’s food waste problem has long plagued the city, with 3,600 tonnes of food waste disposed of every day, which is equivalent to the weight of 300 double-decker buses combined! Feeding Hong Kong targets to rescue surplus food from retailers and manufacturers and then provide them to low-income households in Hong Kong. With the exponential rise in food prices under the fifth COVID-19 wave, they are currently aiming to raise HK$2 million to support 200,000 additional meals. Anyone interested can hop on to their website and pay donations to feed the needy who struggle to get enough food. Additionally, the organization is also looking for ​​volunteers who can assist with the delivery and packaging of food, so if you are willing to lend a helping hand, there are numerous volunteering opportunities that you can check out on their website.

The Zubin Foundation

As a charity organization to support the ethnic minorities (EMs) in Hong Kong, the Zubin Foundation has introduced relief packs and care boxes amidst the pandemic to help needy families. They provide these services in several districts across Hong Kong, including Kwai Chung, Yuen Long, and Tung Ching. The relief packages include rice, flour, oil, and face masks. In addition to that, they also provide free counseling services, “Call Mira,” in various languages, including English, Urdu/Hindi, to support EMs struggling during the pandemic. Anyone who would love to help out could either donate to the organization or sign up for their volunteering opportunities to help deliver the care boxes to families—more information can be found on their website.

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