Unable to work or barred from going to work, residents of the Kwai Chung housing estate at the epicentre of the city’s Covid-19 outbreak have said they face job losses and income freezes.

An online questionnaire surveyed 174 residents living in affected blocks at Kwai Chung Estate – including those who were subject to five-day lockdowns and residents of buildings placed under compulsory testing notices – on Sunday and Monday. When asked to quantify how much financial pressure they were under on a scale of one to 10, almost 30 per cent answered 10.

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Police wearing full PPE gear outside Kwai Chung Estate on January 24, 2022. Photo: Hillary Leung/HKFP

Eleven said they had lost their jobs, while close to half said they had been forced to take unpaid leave or use annual leave days, the results of the survey, conducted by concern group Kwai Tsing Kai-Fong Alliance, showed.

“Many residents live a hand-to-mouth existence, but the government has not come up with any measures to address this. They have become the victims of the anti-epidemic policies,” a press release published by the group read.

Covid-19 hotspot

Kwai Chung Estate has emerged as the epicentre of Hong Kong’s latest outbreak, with confirmed Covid-19 cases reported at 12 of the complex’s 16 blocks. After Yat Kwai House and Ying Kwai House were locked down last Friday and Saturday, respectively, a third block, Ha Kwai House, was placed under a five-day lockdown, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said on Tuesday.

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Kwai Chung Estate. Photo: Hillary Leung/HKFP

The lockdown at Yat Kwai House has also been extended for two days as cases continue to be found in the building.

Authorities identified 64 more infections at the estate on Tuesday, Chuang Shuk-kwan of the Centre of Health Protection said. Since the first cases at the public housing complex were recorded last week, 276 infections have been confirmed.

Hong Kong recorded 124 new Covid-19 cases on Tuesday, 93 of which were local infections.

The cluster at Kwai Chung Estate is believed to have started with a 64-year-old cleaner who works at Yat Kwai House and lives at Ying Kwai House.

Leung Chi-shing, the district councillor for the Kwai Hing constituency, said he had heard from residents in the estate whose employers – knowing where they live – told them not to come into work.

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Residents line up for a Covid-19 test outside Chau Kwai House, Kwai Chung Estate, on January 24, 2022. Photo: Hillary Leung/HKFP

“The survey may not be fully reflective of the situation,” Leung told HKFP, adding that the number of people who have been let go is probably higher.

Call for subsidies

Lawmakers from the pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB) called on the government to hand out HK$5,000 subsidies to Kwai Chung residents affected by the Covid-19 lockdown.

“These few days, the DAB has received many comments from affected residents. Some cannot go to work, some have been forced by employers to take unpaid leave, some have been told not to come to work,” legislative councillor Frankie Ngan said. “Hearing about this is quite sad.”

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DAB lawmakers give a press conference on January 25, 2021. Photo: DAB, via video screenshot

Authorities currently offer a one-off allowance of HK$5,000 for locally confirmed Covid-19 patients who are not entitled to paid sick leave. The grant was introduced in November 2020 to alleviate the financial hardship of those who test positive, and is not means-tested.

The subsidy, lawmaker Frankie Ngan said, should be “extended” to Kwai Chung Estate residents, adding that the DAB had approached the Labour and Welfare Bureau and the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department with the proposal.

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Hillary has an interest in social issues and politics. Previously, she reported on Asia broadly - including on Hong Kong's 2019 protests - for TIME Magazine and covered local news at Coconuts Hong Kong.