(File photo)

MANILA – The Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) will provide cash aid worth US$200 (around PHP10,000) for each overseas Filipino worker (OFW) in Hong Kong who tested positive for coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19), Malacañang said Monday.

Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles, also acting presidential spokesperson, made this announcement as he assured that the Philippine government, through the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO), is currently extending assistance to Covid-infected OFWs in Hong Kong.

He said the POLO immediately provided OFWs there with food, hygiene kits, and power banks to allow them to communicate while waiting for calls from the Center for Health Protection and HK Labor Department.

The POLO coordinated with a non-government organization to provide an isolation facility to accommodate several of our OFWs, he noted.

He said the POLO also coordinated with the HK Labor Department, which set up an isolation facility for our kababayans, pending admission to the quarantine facility, apart from providing transportation arrangements.

The POLO has also provided US$200 for after-care financial assistance to those who recovered from Covid-19, he added.

As of February 19, five out of 28 OFWs in Hong Kong who contracted Covid-19 have fully recovered. Out of the five, three have returned to their respective employers.

On Sunday, the Department of Labor and Employment belied reports that a number of Filipino domestic helpers in Hong Kong had been fired by their employers after testing positive for Covid-19.

Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said all OFWs who contracted Covid-19 are being monitored by the POLO and the Philippine Consulate General (PCG).

The PCG in Hong Kong said they will "blacklist" employers who fire Filipino workers on account of contracting Covid-19.

The Chinese territory is currently grappling with an unprecedented surge in Covid-19 cases fueled by the Omicron variant, with healthcare facilities reaching over 90 percent capacity as of last week.

On Monday, ACT-CIS Partylist Rep. Rowena Niña Taduran called on the Philippine Consulate in Hong Kong to look into the situation of other OFWs in Hong Kong who might not be able to call or personally appeal for help because of certain circumstances.

“I have heard also of reports saying that these OFWs get terminated by their employers just because they insist on using their day off. I understand that employers are afraid that their helpers could contract Covid-19 outside. But they cannot deny their right to rest and use their day off, even if these employers offer additional pay and the helpers do not agree to that,” Taduran said.

Administrator Hans Cacdac of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration said they have already rescued some OFWs in the streets and given them shelter and food.

Cacdac told Taduran that they are also in the process of convincing employers to take the OFWs back in the midst of the surge of the Covid-19 Omicron variant in Hong Kong.

“I was told by Administrator Cacdac that there are 41 OFWs who have been found positive with Covid-19 and are already in the hospital or in the isolation areas. Some of them are under the care of non-government organizations. Their cases are not severe but they need medical attention," Taduran said.

She said the employers should not repudiate an employment contract with an OFW who has contracted Covid-19 or used her right for a day off.

Citing the Employment Ordinance and Standard Employment Contract in Hong Kong, Taduran said employers cannot terminate an employment contract with an OFW or any foreign domestic helpers who have contracted Covid-19.

Agusan del Norte Rep. Lawrence Fortun, meanwhile, said the Philippine government should act with dispatch as the number could increase in the coming days given the unprecedented surge taking place in Hong Kong.

"I appeal to the DOH, DFA, DND, DSWD, and DOLE to quickly send at least one or two hospital ships to Hong Kong to provide emergency COVID medical care for Filipinos there," Fortun said.

While those hospital ships are being prepared for their mercy mission, Fortun said the government should also immediately deploy a rapid response team to Hong Kong made up of doctors, nurses, medical technologists, social workers, psychiatrists, and other health care workers.

"That team would be an advance party for urgent medical care and gave the way for the arrival of our hospital ships. We appeal further to the major Filipino firms with international cruise ships to lend one or two of their vessels to Hong Kong to augment the government's hospital ships. This is a time when your blessings can be shared with our kababayans in dire need of help," Fortun said.

Fortun said sending these ships to Hong Kong might be the best option available because the Hong Kong hospitals are swamped with Covid-19 cases and the OFWs may no longer have immediate access to urgent medical intervention at this time when its healthcare system is already overwhelmed.

"Our mercy mission should also be prepared for other urgent non-COVID medical cases because Filipinos in Hong Kong may have been unable to visit hospitals because of the dire state of its healthcare system," he said. (with reports from Filane Mikee Cervantes/PNA)