FOUR HUNDRED MAINLAND WORKERS FORCED TO STAY IN MACAU – Covid-19. Caritas and “Santa Casa” constrained to make additional financial efforts

– Marco Carvalho

The epidemic outbreak that has spread, first in the People’s Republic of China and then in more than two and a half dozen countries and territories, forced organizations such as Caritas and the Holy House of Mercy to make a further financial effort to house around four hundred workers who live on the other side of the Border Gate.

The dissemination of the coronavirus – this week designated by the World Health Organization (WHO) as Covid-19 – and the contingency measures enacted by the Macau Government, have led two of Macau’s most relevant social solidarity institutions to take action, against the clock, to house 400 employees caught in a limbo by the epidemic crisis,  O Clarim was told by those responsible for both organizations.

“We have 21 workers who do not live in Macau. As they do not live in Macau, these workers were eventually at greater risk because they had to travel to Zhuhai everyday, they had to cross the border every day,” António José de Freitas explains. “On the 4th of February, we had to equip two apartments and buy furniture and some essential items so that they have [decent] living conditions. This means that since the 4th of this month, these non-resident workers have stopped going home. They work and sleep in Macau,” the president of the Holy House of Mercy adds.

The effort that Caritas Macau had to make is even more substantial. The organization, led by Paul Pun Chi Meng, is providing 380 Mainland employees with shelter, food and Internet since the early days of the month: “We have 400 workers that live in neighboring Zhuhai and we have managed to convince 380 of them to remain in Macau. In addition to shelter, we provide these employees with free meals, even when they are not working,” the Secretary-General of Caritas said.

“We try to make them realize that we are living exceptional times and that this is an emergency solution. We hope that this situation will not last too long. These employees are sacrificing themselves for the good of the people they serve. As long as the outbreak lasts, they are deprived of the possibility of reuniting with their families,” Mr Pun stresses.

The effort, acknowledges the Secretary-general of Caritas, has allowed the organization to maintain, almost without restrictions, 23 of the 26 services it provides. With the exception of schools, the nursery and the day center, none of the other services provided by the organization were interrupted and Caritas has even augmented its services by providing residents in a more vulnerable situation with food baskets: “When we offer them the baskets, we are not just providing them with food. We also tell them that, in case they need other help, they can also contact us,” Paul Pun says.

“Our main priority is to continue to provide the services we provide to more than 1300 people, who are already among the most vulnerable in Macau. I am talking about the elderly, about people with disabilities and people with mental illness,” the Secretary-general of Caritas maintains.

In line with the recommendations issued by the Government, the Holy House of Mercy closed the daycare center and the Rehabilitation Centre for the Blind and reinforced the care and caution with which patients at Our Lady of Mercy Home are treated. Mr António José de Freitas explained: “We had the sensitivity, as early as the 1st of February, to give orders to suspend the visits paid by family members. From the beginning of the month, these visits were temporarily suspended. Family members reacted very well to this measure. Everyone is understanding and knows that these measures only intend the general good of everybody,” says the president of the Holy House of Mercy.

“We also asked some patients to not leave our home. Until then, there were users who, enjoying better physical conditions or enjoying physical fitness, left the premises daily. Given the circumstances, we had to ask these users to reconsider this way of proceeding,” António José de Freitas adds.

The Church pays attention to the difficulties of the Filipino community

The Pastoral Care for Filipino Migrants is following the case of more than 100 tourists from the Philippines who were left stranded in Macau after the Manila government enacted measures that led to the cancellation of flights between the SAR and the neighboring archipelago. The information was advanced to O Clarim by Father Ryan June Real, who also revealed that, in addition to the 131 visitors affected, there are other Filipino citizens who want to return to the country, having lost their jobs as a result of the special contingency measures decreed by the Government of Macau: “There are no suspicious cases among the Filipino community, but there are tourists and workers who have been fired and made redundant who are trying to arrange a way to return home with the Philippine Consulate in Macau. There is not much we can do to help them, but we are paying attention to this process,” explained Father Real, a missionary with the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity.

With the Macau economy effectively paralyzed, the measures enacted by the Government have affected in particular non-resident workers. Without great alternatives, some seek help from organizations like Caritas: “On Tuesday, three girls and one boy went to Caritas headquarters because they were forced to take an unpaid leave. They were worried because they were running out of money and came to us, looking for work. We offered them some food, so they don’t have to spend the money they have left,” Caritas Secretary General, Paul Pun, explained.

In line with the measures enacted by the Diocese of Macau, the facilities of the Pastoral Care for Filipino Migrants are closed, but the organization continues to attend to the spiritual needs of Filipino citizens living in Macau, through the daily transmission of the Eucharist over the Internet: “At this moment, with the coronavirus, we still continue to respond to the spiritual needs of the community, by transmitting the Mass over the Internet,” says Father Ryan Real. “There is a link to the Mass on our Internet portal,” the priest concludes.

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