Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor tell reporters on Friday that the government will distribute the 1.6 million surgery masks received from donors to poor elderly people through non-government organizations. (PARKER ZHENG/ CHINA DAILY)
Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor on Friday announced a package of subsidies worth HK$25 billion ($3.2 billion) to offer relief to medical workers, business owners and the underprivileged suffering in the wake of the coronavirus epidemic.
Under the package which includes 21 categories, a one-time allowance of HK$80,000 will be distributed to each of the licensed travel agencies, restaurants, and all retailers — three major employers that have been badly affected since the virus epidemic. Each licensed vendor will also get a one-time allowance of HK$5,000.
The subsidies could help ease financial pressures on small and medium-sized enterprises — such as rental payments and manpower costs — as many retailers have suspended business since the outbreak
Peter Shiu Ka-fai, lawmaker
Official data show retail sales plunged 11.1 percent annually in 2019 to HK$431.2 billion — the sharpest decline since 1998. Equally concerning, the catering industry recorded a 6 percent slump — such a large decline for the industry has not occurred since 2003 when Hong Kong experienced the SARS outbreak.
Each of the about 200,000 low-income households in the city will receive a special allowance of HK$5,000 — on average. Families which have to postpone moving into new housing estates that have been designated as temporary quarantine centers will each receive one-time compensation of HK$6,000.
The package also includes an extra appropriation of HK$4.7 billion for the Hospital Authority to ensure the adequate supply of protective gear and other equipment needed by front-line medical workers.
Lam said the government will seek appropriation from the Finance Committee of the Legislative Council, which is scheduled to have an eight-hour special meeting next Friday to process the request. She called on legislators to support and pass the government proposal.
Legislator Tommy Cheung Yu-yan representing the catering industry welcomed the relief measures, describing them as “timely’’ assistance during a miserable time for the industry.
Another lawmaker Peter Shiu Ka-fai, who represents the wholesale and retail functional constituency, said the subsidies could help ease financial pressures on small and medium-sized enterprises — such as rental payments and manpower costs — as many retailers have suspended business since the outbreak.
Hong Kong reported three additional infections on Friday, bringing the tally to 56 confirmed cases. The supply of protective gear has becomes a crucial issue in the community.
Discussing the supply of face masks, Lam told reporters the government will distribute the 1.6 million surgery masks received from donors to poor elderly people through non-government organizations. The government’s stockpile of masks is sufficient for two-month use by civil servants, elderly homes and government’s outsourced cleaners.
Meanwhile, 11 of the 218 coronavirus-positive passengers on the isolated Diamond Princess cruise ship are Hong Kong residents. The cruise ship is currently docked at Yokohama in Japan.
Lam said the SAR government, together with the nation’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, has been providing all necessary and feasible assistance to Hong Kong people on board. They will arrange their return to Hong Kong once more matters are dealt with.
In a press release issued on Friday, the Foreign Ministry’s Commissioner’s Office in the SAR pledged to extend full assistance to all Hong Kong residents on the ship.
Li Bingcun and Gu Mengyan contributed to this story.
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