The Hong Kong government will dish out a bigger-than-expected HK$30 billion (US$3.86 billion) relief package in an urgent attempt to bail out virtually all industries across the board as people from all walks of life are left reeling from the coronavirus outbreak.
Details of the measures, which were revealed in a document to lawmakers late on Wednesday night, aimed to serve two purposes: boosting the city's ability to fight the epidemic and easing the woes of businesses as the number of confirmed infections of Covid-19 continued to rise.
More than half the funding - HK$16.9 billion (US$2.15 billion) - would be used to provide one-off cash injections to retailers, food and drink service providers, transport companies, students, the arts and culture sector, guest houses and travel agents.
Another HK$10.19 billion (US$1.3 billion) would focus on the virus itself, with support given to the Hospital Authority; more investment in technology to boost local production of surgical masks; the purchase of more protective equipment; and aid for various sectors including property management staff, security guards and construction and cleaning workers in their fight against contagion.
Some of this funding would also be set aside for households of two public housing estates designated as temporary quarantine centres.
The two parts of the funding plus a 10 per cent buffer add up to about HK$30 billion.
Since the outbreak worsened in January, 65 people in Hong Kong have been infected with the virus and two have died. Globally, more than 2,000 people have died since the outbreak began, and more than 75,000 have been infected - the vast majority in mainland China.
The intensifying public health crisis prompted the Hong Kong government to close all but three of its border checkpoints with mainland China. Only the airport, the Shenzhen Bay Port and the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge are still operating.
A total of 47 jurisdictions have issued travel advisories against visiting mainland China, while 28 included Hong Kong as well.
Flights have been cut and cruise tours cancelled while tourist arrivals have plunged to a trough even worse than the depth of the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) in 2003.
Of the funding, the Hospital Authority would receive HK$4.7 billion (US$604 million), which would cover subsidies to its 80,000 staff on rent, extra personal protective equipment and special allowances.
To boost mask production in Hong Kong, HK$1.5 billion (US$193 million) would be earmarked for subsidising producers setting up a maximum of 20 production lines while the government was committed to buying 2 million masks a month for a year.
The government would spend HK$1 billion (US$129 billion) on the global procurement of personal protective equipment, including clothes.
As for sectors that had suffered a heavy toll from the outbreak, the city's 70,000 retailers would share a total of HK$5.6 billion (US$720 billion) cash subsidy.
Those qualified were defined as "businesses which sell goods at a physical location mainly to the general public for personal/household consumption", the government said. It said the retail sector employs about 267,000 workers.
For the city's 28,000 food licence holders, a total of HK$3.73 billion (US$490 million) was earmarked for two groups. Those that have a general restaurant licence, a marine restaurant licence or a canteen licence are eligible for a one-off grant of HK$200,000 (US$26,000).
Holders of light refreshment licences, such as bakeries, food factories and siu mei or lo mei (Chinese cuisine), would be eligible for a cash grant of HK$80,000 each.
Public transport providers would be subsidised with HK$3.23 billion (US$415 million) altogether.
Students are to receive grants of HK$900 million (US$116 million) for the 2020/21 academic year.
Tenants of technology hubs in Science Park in Tai Po and Cyberport in Pok Fu Lam would be subsidised with HK$380 million (US$49 million) in rent.
The fund will be set up within a week following funding approval and the specific measures discussed would be implemented as a matter of priority. The measures were due to be discussed in a finance committee meeting on Friday.
"As the fight against the epidemic continues, we may identify further measures for enhancing our capability, and other sectors or types of individuals that need financial support or relief," the document said.
"We therefore propose that some financial buffer be injected into the fund to serve as a ready source for prompt response to such needs."
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