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 shows Filipinos have accounted for 9.5% of the city’s total of 1,795 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 — a special administrative region of China — 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 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 drink businesses.
The gambling hub has been shut down since July 11, with most businesses, including casinos, closed and people banned from leaving home unless necessary. It’s planning to reopen casinos and some other venues from Saturday with limited capacity, though bars, cinemas and nightclubs will remain shut and dining-in services at restaurants suspended.
The resumption is part of Macau’s target 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, which started on June 18, is easing, with about a dozen cases reported on Thursday.