EOC Urges Reason and Empathy in Dealing with People and Facilities Related to the Novel Coronavirus
The Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) expresses concern over recent scuffles in various districts sparked by the Government’s plan to set up quarantine centres and designated clinics to contain the outbreak of the novel coronavirus. The EOC urges the public to approach the matter with reason and empathy, as a “not-in-my-backyard” (NIMBY) attitude towards the facilities would serve only to delay help for persons affected by the virus and undercut efforts to bring the epidemic under control.
“There is a great deal of concern and apprehension surrounding the epidemic, and that is completely understandable. However, our city is now at the critical juncture of trying to pre-empt a community-wide outbreak. If we all harbour a NIMBY mentality and object to having the facilities built in our neighbourhoods, the epidemic will likely spiral out of control, and eventually the whole society and all of us will have to suffer the consequences,” said Mr Ricky CHU Man-kin, Chairperson of the EOC. “The EOC is especially concerned about the potential stigma that might be inflicted on users of the facilities and other persons affected by the virus amid the opposition. At its worst, it can deter infected persons from disclosing their condition, receiving quarantine inspection or simply visiting a doctor.”
Mr Chu continued, “Having said that, we also urge the Government to step up its efforts in communicating the purpose and operations of the relevant facilities to the public. As the EOC pointed out in its 2016 study, ‘Challenges Encountered in the Siting of Integrated Community Centres for Mental Wellness (ICCMW) and Other Social Welfare Facilities in Hong Kong’, resistance among residents against socially sensitive facilities such as ICCMWs is often the result of misunderstanding, which stems from incomprehensive or inadequate explanation to the public. Given that the coronavirus is a new strain of illness that has caught the world off guard with its rapid spread, it is understandable that some people would be worried. The Government therefore must keep in close communication and contact with the local community, including neighbourhood representatives. In light of the extreme urgency of setting up these facilities, such communication should be conducted soonest in a rational manner and in the spirit of understanding and cooperation.”
Meanwhile, the EOC is also concerned by recent incidents of restaurants, hair salons and other shops reportedly turning away customers from mainland China and putting up notices that read “No Mainlanders”, “We Don’t Serve Putonghua Speakers”, etc. The EOC appeals to the public to refrain from derogatory, insulting or vilifying language and any discriminatory acts against members of a particular race or ethnic group.
Under the Race Discrimination Ordinance (RDO), it is unlawful for any person or organisation to treat someone less favourably on the ground of race, such as by refusing to provide goods, services or facilities. In the case of restaurants, for example, it may be unlawful under the RDO for the owner to turn away ethnic Chinese customers from mainland China or those speaking Putonghua, while continuing to serve customers of other races, irrespective of whether they come from the mainland.
In addition, the Disability Discrimination Ordinance (DDO) outlaws discrimination, harassment and vilification based on disability. Included under the DDO as a definition of disability is the presence in the body of organisms, including viruses, capable of causing disease or illness. Besides disability that presently exists, the DDO covers disability that previously existed, may exist in the future or is imputed to a person as well.
“Our city is no doubt going through a grave challenge. We must follow reason and stay united to put up our best fight against the epidemic. This is not the time nor the place to wallow in division and spread more hatred and prejudice,” said Mr Chu. “As Hong Kong strives to contain the outbreak, there is an equal need for empathy and understanding towards others. Employers, for instance, should be flexible in handling employees’ requests for sick leave or time off, so that employees who have contracted or potentially contracted the virus can receive medical treatment at ease, and those who need to look after family members or other associates affected by the virus can do so without hassle. Indeed, the EOC wishes to see everyone affected by the epidemic have equal access to the treatment and other services they need, and live the healthy life they deserve.”
Equal Opportunities Commission
11 February 2020