Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam has appealed to the Finance Committee of the Legislative Council to endorse the government’s HK$137.5 billion anti-epidemic relief package.
Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday, Lam said the government had submitted papers to the Finance Committee to apply for four additional funds as part of the city’s effort to aid citizens and businesses. The city’s economy has been hard hit during the coronavirus outbreak.
The funds include an injection of HK$112.5 billion into a series of support schemes under the anti-epidemic fund such as the Employment Support Scheme, which had been increased to HK$81 billion after further calculations.
“The aim of this scheme is to retain jobs. The unemployment rate is at 3.7 per cent now. If we don’t act immediately, I’m afraid the unemployment rate would be aggravated by a large degree,” Lam said.
An extra HK$3.52 billion is being sought for Comprehensive Social Security Assistance to support unemployed persons.
The government had also applied to expand the grant for the Special 100 per cent Loan Guarantee for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) by HK$30 billion. It is estimated that the total operational cost of the SME Financing Guarantee Scheme would be increased by around HK$11.7 billion.
“The responses we have heard the most is one word – quick. As it is a timely response, a lot of enterprises and employees hope the government can implement the set of measures as soon as possible,” Lam said. “I would like to appeal to the Finance Committee of the Legislative Council most sincerely to endorse the funding proposal this Friday,”
Three new infections
Hong Kong recorded a single-digit increase in infections on Tuesday with three new cases, but health authorities warned citizens not to let their guard down.
The additional cases involved three males aged 16 to 53, who all had travel history and did not display relevant symptoms. They had been to the US and UK. The total number of confirmed cases in Hong Kong has now climbed to 1,012.
Health authorities are also looking into an overseas case of a 61-year-old male returning from Thailand, where he was confirmed to have contracted the virus. Prior to that, he had travelled to the US and Germany.
He was allowed to fly to Hong Kong on Sunday after obtaining health documents to prove he was fully recovered. But upon arriving in the city, his deep throat saliva sample given at the Asia-World Expo tested positive for the Covid-19.
“We are liaising with Thailand to see if he had been confirmed as a patient in Thailand. If that’s the case, this one would not count towards the total number of cases in Hong Kong,” said Chuang Shuk-kwan, head of the communicable disease branch of the Centre for Health Protection (CHP).
First detected in Hubei, China, almost 20 million people globally have been infected with Covid-19, whilst over 731,000 have died from the SARS-like disease according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University.
It is the third consecutive day that Hong Kong recorded a single-digit increase in infections, but Controller of the CHP Wong Ka-hing said the city is still subject to future fluctuations.
“We’ve seen a general improvement in recent days. People are less worried now, but it is no time to let our guard down,” Wong said.
He added the public should continue to maintain personal hygiene, reduce social gatherings and be vigilant when it comes to spotting relevant symptoms.
“We have to do everything we can to protect ourselves and prevent infection. We should not do anything that would add to the very heavy workload of the healthcare workers,” he said.