The Hong Kong government on Wednesday launched a HK$137 billion (US$17.67 billion) package of measures to help businesses stay afloat during the coronavirus pandemic and save people’s jobs.
The government will pay 50% of private-sector workers’ salaries for six months, with the monthly subsidy for each worker capped at HK$9,000 – half of the city’s median salary of HK$18,000.
Companies will be reimbursed in two installments, with the first of the money arriving by June. This measure will help make sure 1.5 million workers get their wages, according to the government.
The government will also create 30,000 short-term jobs, covering a 12-month period, and 10,000 more civil servants will be hired across 2020/21.
Also, MTR fares will be cut by 20% for six months, with the government bearing half the losses this will lead to. About one million taxpayers are allowed to defer paying their bills for three months if they wish.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam said unprecedented steps were required to tackle what is an unprecedented challenge, with businesses across all sectors affected by the crisis in one way or another.
Beauty and massage parlors
On Wednesday, the government ordered beauty parlors and massage establishments to shut for 14 days from Friday as the transmission chain of Covid-19 had not yet been cut off in the city.
The government also said various rules to ensure social distancing would be extended until April 23.
A total of 25 new cases of coronavirus infections were reported in Hong Kong on Wednesday, bringing the total number to 960, according to the Center for Health Protection.
Last week, the government ordered the shutdown of karaoke, nightclubs and mahjong parlors from April 1. Originally it also planned to shut down beauty and massage parlors and clubhouses, but instead, it ordered people to wear masks and use hand sanitizers within these premises.
From April 3, bars and pubs were ordered to close for 14 days.
From March 29, catering premises were ordered to reduce the number of tables, while six kinds of premises, including fitness centers and party rooms, were ordered to stop providing services for 14 days. The shutdown has been extended until April 23.
A four-person limit on gatherings in public places, whether indoors or outdoors, will continue to be enforced for the next two weeks.
The Department of Health will step up medical surveillance at the airport from Wednesday, requiring all arrivals to undergo a Covid-19 test.
They will be taken straight to the test center at Asia World Expo for their saliva samples to be collected before they will be allowed to go home for mandatory quarantine. Test results usually come back in three days.
All these measures are aimed at reducing the risk of infections at high-risk facilities and cutting the transmission chain at critical times, said Sophia Chan Siu-chee, Secretary for Health.
Amy Hui Wai-fung, chairwoman of the Hong Kong Beauty and Fitness Professionals General Union, said the government should provide subsidies to the 8,000 to 10,000 beauty parlors in the city or many of them will go bankrupt in the short term.
Tsang Hin-kuen, chairman of the Hong Kong Fighting Union, urged the government to offer support to self-employed coaches, who lost their income due to the shutdown of boxing and fitness centers.
The latest additions to the list of business closures were welcomed by Civic Party lawmaker Kwok Ka-ki. However, Kwok said there should also be extra measures regarding people arriving in the city from the mainland, particularly from Wuhan.
From Wednesday, people in Wuhan were allowed to leave the city after a 79-day lockdown. The Wuhan government said that as many as 55,000 people were expected to flow out on Wednesday by train from Wuhan. About 20,000 of these people would go to the Pearl River Delta region.