Coronavirus: Hong Kong’s ethnic minority leaders slam government over handling of outbreak
Community figures accuse ministers of failing to translate health and other advice, provide masks or engage with parts of society. Department of Health says virus information will be available soon in more languages
Community leaders have accused the government of failing to provide important health information and surgical masks for Hong Kong’s ethnic minorities during the coronavirus outbreak, while displaying a lack of willingness to engage with sections of society.
The city is battling a new virus strain that originated in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, recording 27 cases including one that was fatal.
Global total fatalities have risen to 813, matching the World Health Organisation’s figure for total Sars deaths.
The Hong Kong government has declared an emergency, implementing containment and mitigation measures such as a month-long suspension of schools, shutting 10 border crossings and imposing quarantine on all those entering the city from mainland China.
But those representing and supporting ethnic minorities in Hong Kong have been critical of the response.
Ansah Malik, a social worker of Pakistani descent who also advises the government on the Commission on Poverty, accused city officials of being selective in what vital information it shared with her community.
She said Centre for Health Protection and other government advice on wearing masks, hygiene practice, travel arrangements and quarantine measures had not been translated into six minority languages – Urdu, Hindi, Nepali, Thai, Tagalog and Bahasa Indonesia. The materials were last revised in January.
That advice includes putting the toilet lid down before flushing and once a week pouring about half a litre of water down drain outlets, known as U-traps.
Malik said the omission deprived many of their right to know about the deadly outbreak because they did not understand English or Chinese and relied on news from their countries of origin for information. The elderly and first generation migrants were particularly affected, she added.
“All information was delayed and they were not aware of the seriousness of the virus,” she said in an interview on Saturday.
There were 584,383 ethnic minority residents in Hong Kong, accounting for 8 per cent of the total population, according to 2016 government figures.
Jeffrey Andrews, Hong Kong’s first social worker from an ethnic minority background, said what the community needed most was accurate information given the spread of fake news and misinformation about the health crisis.
“Like the locals, the government has failed to procure and secure mask supplies for us. But we don’t know where to queue for surgical masks because most information is in Chinese,” the Indian Hongkonger said.
“And some of us don’t wear masks when out and about, and still hug and shake hands to greet each other, and use hands to eat certain food as part of our pretty touchy-feely culture.”
“[Chief Executive] Carrie Lam [Cheng Yuet-ngor] cried discrimination against mainlanders when asked to shut the borders, but no ministers spoke up for us and talked about our needs. We are always at the bottom of the pile.”
A Department of Health spokeswoman said content about the coronavirus was being developed for ethnic minority languages and the Centre for Health Protection had maintained “close liaison” with stakeholders in the community.
But Muhammad Arshad, the city’s chief imam at Kowloon Mosque and Islamic Centre in Tsim Sha Tsui, said public officials had not engaged with him to offer support or advice on fighting the spread.
“We are part of the local community. When virus spreads, it doesn’t see which religion or ethnicity you belong to. So we want to listen to the government’s instructions and work with local people,” he said.
“We are trying to bring in 50,000 masks from Turkey, and some more from Bangladesh, but it has been difficult with export bans and global shortages, and obviously government support would be helpful.”
The Muslim leader has suspended Madrasa – religious classes for Muslim children – but will continue to hold prayers and gatherings at his mosque, including those held on Fridays that are often attended by thousands.
“There is no compulsion for them to come, and I cannot stop them from coming to pray. But I have told them not to hug or shake hands with each other.”