Another round of pandemic subsidies in the works

Chief Executive Carrie Lam said on Tuesday that the government is preparing another round of subsidies for businesses hit hard by the Omicron outbreaks.

It would be the fifth round of anti-epidemic fund since the pandemic began, and Lam said more details will be announced on Friday.

She said the government will offer financial help to industries that never quite rebounded, such as the tourism sector.

The CE noted around HK$4 billion is left in the fund, and the government will ask for approval from the legislature if more funding is needed.

The Liberal Party welcomed the move, saying it’s thankful for the government’s swift decision to help out.

But party chairman Tommy Cheung, who is also the lawmaker representing the catering industry, said it would be even better if Lam would order the re-opening of regulated premises, saying there hadn’t been a mass outbreak of local cases.

“I think we can open our businesses to normal hours, or at least extend it to having dinner time when we can open for business, and also for [my sector’s] listed premises, like the bars, karaokes and night clubs,” he told reporters.

“That would actually help them a lot more than just giving them the subsidy.”

Cheung also urged the government to consider bringing forward stricter mandates originally slated for the end of next month and let restaurants stay open for longer hours every day.

The DAB’s Vincent Cheng said the government needs to streamline the subsidy granting process, saying some applicants have had to wait for up to six months for the money in the past.

He also called on the government to roll out another round of consumption vouchers.

Lawmaker Kingsley Wong, from the Federation of Trade Unions, said the government should learn from experience and avoid giving the money out through employers.

He said the money should be handed out directly, capped at HK$9,000 per month for a maximum of six months, to those who are forced into unpaid leave or have lost their jobs because of the pandemic.