On 9 February 2020, the number of deaths due to the rapidly spreading coronavirus in Mainland China officially surpassed the figure seen during the 2002/2003 SARS epidemic.
For a summary of the employment and HR issues arising out of the coronavirus, you can refer to our previous article here.
Numerous governments have been implementing restrictions barring entry to those with recent travel history through Mainland China, including Singapore, Japan, Australia and the United States. Following pressure from public health workers, the Hong Kong Government has now followed suit and has begun a mandatory two-week quarantine for anyone arriving from Mainland China.
A copy of the Compulsory Quarantine of Certain Persons Arriving at Hong Kong Regulation (Cap. 599C) can be found here.
What are the measures?
The measures have been introduced pursuant to the Prevention and Control of Disease Ordinance (Cap. 599). Starting from midnight on 8 February 2020, anyone who has: (i) arrived from Mainland China; or (ii) stayed in Mainland China at any time during the 14 days prior to their date of arrival in Hong Kong, must remain in quarantine for 14 days.
The measures apply to both visitors and Hong Kong residents. Visitors must isolate themselves in hotel rooms or Government-run centres. Hong Kong residents must stay inside their homes.
If an employee is required to remain in quarantine, a public health officer will issue them with a quarantine order and a medical certificate.
What are the penalties for non-compliance?
Anyone caught violating the terms of the quarantine order without the permission of the public health officer is liable on conviction to a fine of HK$25,000 and to imprisonment for up to 6 months.
Giving false or misleading information to a public health officer is also an offence and punishable to the same extent.
How long will the measures last for?
The Regulation will remain in effect until 7 May 2020. However, it is not clear if this will be extended.
Is anyone exempt?
The new measures do not apply to certain categories of exempt persons including:
anyone solely transiting through Hong Kong and not passing through Hong Kong immigration control;
those whom the Chief Secretary considers to be:
necessary for the supply of goods or services required for the normal operation of Hong Kong or the daily needs of the people of Hong Kong;
necessary for governmental operation;
necessary for the protection of the safety or health of the people of Hong Kong or the handling of the public health emergency;
other exceptional categories in order to serve the public interest.
Any travel from Macao to Hong Kong, or from Hong Kong to Macao, via the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge is also excluded. The person's passing through the section of the bridge in the Mainland during the journey is not regarded as a stay in the Mainland.
How should businesses prepare?
In addition to our previous guidance, we recommend that business takes into account the following issues and consider implementing the following steps:
Dissuade all non-essential business travel through Mainland China. This is already the status quo for most employers in the region. Employers should take additional care to ensure their list of regular business travellers and contact details are kept up-to-date, and that staff are required to notify the business of any planned travel in advance.
Employees should be required to inform the business as soon as possible if they are subject to mandatory quarantine. If so, they should be required to provide a copy of the terms of the applicable quarantine order and any medical certificate.
Revisit existing flexible working policies. Such policies are currently being tested to their limits in Hong Kong, with remote/flexible working likely to continue for those businesses who can accommodate it. The Labour Department has again encouraged employers to be considerate, show understanding and make flexible arrangements where possible.
If the individual is issued with a medical certificate, general sick leave principles should apply and an employee should be treated as being on sick leave during the quarantine period. Staff should be reminded of the employer's sick leave policy, including any requirements as to notification of progress and their expected return to work.
If the employee experiences symptoms or is diagnosed by the public health officer as having contracted the virus during the quarantine period, they should be required to notify the employer as soon as possible.
If the employee's quarantine period is extended, they should notify the business as soon as possible and provide a copy of the terms of any new quarantine order and/or medical certificate (if applicable).
Being placed under mandatory quarantine will be a stressful experience for the employee and his/her family members. Employers should ensure they have in place an effective Employee Assistance Programme, and that all staff are reminded to know how to access it, as well as being notified as to whom internally they can share any concerns with. It is important to keep in regular contact with staff during this difficult time.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.