Manila, April 11, 2003 -- The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) confirmed yesterday that seven more Filipinos in Hong Kong have been afflicted with the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in a span of one week,.

Acting Labor Secretary Manuel Imson said the number of SARS cases among Filipino migrants in Hong Kong and Singapore has risen to 25 from last week's total cases of 18, including one death.

"Latest reports coming from labor officials in Hong Kong show that six more OFWs and a Filipina, who is married to a Chinese national, have been afflicted with SARS," Imson said.

With SARS cases in Hong Kong still rising, the Philippine government is now preparing to ban Filipino travelers as well as migrant workers from traveling to the former Crown Colony.

Due to the SARS outbreak, Imson said the DOLE has decided to delay anew the lifting of the ban on the deployment of domestic helpers to Hong Kong, which was earlier imposed due to the wage cut for foreign domestics there.

"The ban should have been lifted with the filing of the case in court against the wage cut, but the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) will still not process contracts for Hong Kong-bound domestic helpers until the situation there has improved," Imson said.

He said the existing ban covers only domestic helpers but if the situation further worsens, the government may opt to expand the suspension to all types of workers.

Imson added that the deployment ban also covers Filipino workers who are planning to work in Guangdong, China. Although there are no Filipino workers in Guangdong at present, he said there may be Filipinos who may want to go there.

Imson said the Philippine consulate in Hong Kong has itself recommended a temporary suspension on the deployment of OFWs to Hong Kong effective immediately.

"The daily updates and increasing statistics on SARS cases indicate that this disease is far from being under control in Hong Kong and there appears to be no sign in the horizon that the situation will improve in the very near future," Philippine consul general to Hong Kong Victoria Bataclan said in recommending the deployment ban.

Bataclan said a big number of foreign workers have already left Hong Kong to avoid the risks of contracting SARS.

An estimated 170,000 Filipinos, mostly domestic helpers, are currently employed in Hong Kong. 

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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