The Hong Kong government has pledged to pour more than HK$54 billion into fighting the Covid-19 pandemic “on all fronts and at full speed,” as the city sees cases in the thousands amid the fifth wave of infections.

Delivering the last annual budget of his term on Wednesday, Financial Secretary Paul Chan said the government would deploy “all available resources” and “take all necessary measures” to back the city’s anti-epidemic work. More than HK$54 billion would be set aside in the 2022-2023 budget for the cause, he said.

“By making a concerted effort to fight the epidemic on all fronts and at full speed, we will surely win this battle against the virus,” the minister said in his opening remarks when he announced the 2022 budget via video, after the usual speech at the legislature was cancelled owing to the pandemic.

Around HK$22 billion will be allocated to the Food and Health Bureau to step up Covid-19 testing work and procure rapid antigen test kits. Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced a day before that all Hongkongers will need to undergo three rounds of compulsory testing, with up to one million tests conducted per day.

Photo: GovHK.

The funding for the health bureau will cover additional support for the Hospital Authority, the financial minister said, which saw local public hospitals reaching maximum capacity following a significant surge in Covid-19 infections during the Omicron-fuelled wave. Some elderly patients were seen shivering on hospital beds and wheelchairs in outdoor areas as indoor bed spaces filled up. Others were put under mobile tents.

The Department of Health will receive additional funding of HK$6 billion for purchasing more vaccines as booster shots for the public. Around HK$7 billion will be handed to other relevant government departments to buy anti-epidemic items and services, as well as implementing anti-epidemic measures.

Chan pledged that, over two years, the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department will receive extra funding of HK$500 million to improve its environmental hygiene services, especially street cleansing and refuse collection services. The department is also expected to enhance policies on rodent control and improve hygiene at public markets in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Two elderly patients were seen outside the Caritas Medical Centre in Shum Shui Po on February 16, 2022. Photo: Kenny Huang/Studio Incendo.

The city’s Anti-epidemic Fund (AEF), introduced in February 2020 when the city was first hit by the virus, will see a further injection of HK$12 billion for building various facilities related to curbing the pandemic.

Chan said he also earmarked HK$20 billion for “other potential anti-epidemic needs.”

Last Tuesday, the Finance Committee of the Legislative Council – filled with “patriotic” lawmakers elected last December – gave the green light to adding HK$27 billion to the AEF. It allowed the government to roll out a sixth round of measures that comprised 48 schemes. They are aimed at benefiting an estimated 67,000 businesses and 750,000 people.

The financial secretary said on Wednesday that the government committed more than HK$460 billion of his previous measures for counteracting the effects of the economic cycle and other relief policies under the AEF.

The government also spent more than HK$24 billion on providing quarantine facilities at Penny’s Bay and other locations, building a temporary hospital at AsiaWorld-Expo and launching the vaccination programmes.

Some of the public funds were also used on providing test services and raising the supply of medication and medical equipment, Chan said.

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Kelly Ho

Kelly Ho has an interest in local politics, education and sports. She formerly worked at South China Morning Post Young Post, where she specialised in reporting on issues related to Hong Kong youth. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration.