Coronavirus curfew means tough times for Hong Kong domestic workers

Hong Kong's domestic workers, who already struggle with low salaries, have spoken out about the toll the coronavirus is having on their work forcing them to forego privacy and days off to respect curfew restrictions.

Of the over 300,000 workers living in Hong Kong, the majority come from the Philippines, according to government statistics.

Wilma Francisco Tolentino is one of them.

"I arrived here last September 13, 2016. Before things were normal, I could take a day off and go anywhere. But now, there are so many changes," she told RFI.

Tolentino, who was hired by French babysitting company Youpies to take care of three children, has been practically confined indoors since the coronavirus or Covid-19 broke out in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

"I don't take the kids out, we always stay at home. I only go out if I really need to go to the market, but mostly it's my employer who goes out," she comments.

Health officials in Hong Kong on Friday confirmed three additional coronavirus cases, bringing the city-wide total to 56.

Globally, more than 1,300 people are now known to have died from the pneumonia-like virus.

No rest

In the Hong Kong capital, already the setting for months of simmering protests, a new emotion runs in the air: fear.

"Now, we really need to be careful and take extra precautions and we must really practice good hygiene," explains Tolentino, who regularly sanitizes her employer's home, especially the bathroom and toilet.

"We need to wear masks because we don’t know where and when the virus will be transmitted to us. It’s a matter of life and death, because the coronavirus is still not curable. Since, I’m a single parent with a daughter, I’m really scared about my life.”

Adding to the strain are curfew restrictions. Last week, the Hong Kong Labour Department issued a statement calling for foreign domestic workers to "stay home on their rest day" to minimise the spread of Covid-19.

"It's hard," says Tolentino, already feeling the toll of being confined.

Free of care

"Before, I had my boarding house and everytime on my day off I could go there to rest and at least sleep for 2-3 hours."

Not anymore. After a full week of babysitting, she lacks privacy to switch off.

"It’s really hard taking care of three kids. The kids here, they are a little bit naughty, and I really need to rest, but now I just sit down, I cannot rest."

As scientists race to find a vaccine, Tolentino is praying for things to return to normal.

Normal for her means going out "without fear in our hearts of catching the virus."

"Life only comes once." She wants it to be carefree.