The Hong Kong government will roll out a relief package worth HK$137.5 billion (S$25.3 billion) to protect jobs and businesses, even as it extends current social distancing measures and orders mandatory Covid-19 tests for all those who can enter the city.
The bulk of the package, or HK$80 billion, will be used to pay 50 per cent of workers’ salaries for six months, with the subsidy for each worker capped at HK$9,000. This is expected to help 1.5 million workers receive some wages.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam yesterday said at a briefing that firms will be reimbursed in two instalments, the first by June.
“After we spend the money, we can earn it back because Hong Kong’s fundamentals are good. I’m confident we can get through this. We need to be united to fight the epidemic,” she said.
She added that the government will create 30,000 short-term jobs over a 12-month period and hire 10,000 more civil servants in the next year or so.
Some one million taxpayers will also be allowed to defer payments for three months if they wish, while MTR fares will be 20 per cent cheaper, with the government bearing half the loss.
Mrs Lam added that she and the 16 ministers had voluntarily agreed to a 10 per cent pay cut. It would lower her monthly salary to HK$390,000 from last July’s HK$434,000.
“We want to show we are going through this difficult time with the people,” said Mrs Lam. “It’s not a response to certain political situation or request from anyone.”
The new relief package, which is about 4.6 per cent of the city’s gross domestic product (GDP), along with other relief measures, would cost the government HK$287.5 billion in total.
This would lead to a spike in the budget deficit to HK$276.6 billion for this financial year, which is equivalent to 9.5 per cent of GDP.
The new package dwarfs a HK$30 billion fund announced in February that included 24 initiatives to help struggling sectors.
The Secretary for Food and Health, Dr Sophia Chan, yesterday said she has issued an order through the government gazette for existing restrictions to be extended till April 23. With the curbs expanded to cover beauty salons and massage parlours, almost all leisure venues are now closed.
The extension also applies to the government’s prohibition on gatherings of more than four people.
From yesterday, all asymptomatic inbound travellers arriving at the Hong Kong International Airport have to go for mandatory tests before they undergo their compulsory home quarantine.
The latest moves come as the number of local confirmed cases on Tuesday hit 960, more than double the 387 cases a fortnight ago.