January 17, 2022
Hong Kong – Hong Kong announced the fifth round of Anti-epidemic Fund amounting to HK$3.57 billion ($458.6 million) to help the city’s restaurants, tourism agencies and others, which have been hit hard by tightened social distancing rules and travel restrictions. These pandemic control rules were extended for two more weeks until Feb 4.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor told a news conference that the relief fund is expected to be released as soon as possible after the Lunar New Year on Feb 1. The targets of the relief measures include entertainment and leisure venues such as bars and cinemas, which have been closed since Jan 7, and restaurants, which are forbidden to provide dine-in service after 6 pm.
The closed bars, nightclubs, karaoke establishments, game centers, and sports premises, can apply for a subsidy of HK$50,000 from Sunday. Clubhouses with additional karaoke services or bars will get an additional HK$25,000
Under the 14-day extension, the restrictions will run through the Lunar New Year holiday from Feb 1 to 3 — a traditional business season for Hong Kong to embrace mass consumption.
The city also banned more inbound visitors from high-risk areas that were ravaged by Omicron cases and canceled large-scale traditional events, including New Year celebrations and all 15 New Year fairs, in response to the ongoing outbreak.
Hong Kong recorded nine new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, including three locally-transmitted cases.
The city’s medical authorities are most concerned about the case of a supermarket sales clerk, who tested positive on Jan 8 and whose infection can be traced through genetic sequencing to an aircrew member, but the route of contagion remains unclear. “It’s certainly a good sign that we haven’t seen anything like this (a mass outbreak of Omicron cases in the community) for at least eight or 10 days,” said Lam.
The new round of subsidies will also cover travel agencies, which remain in distress because of continued disruptions to the flow of people between Hong Kong and other places since the outbreak of COVID-19.
The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government later issued statements, explaining that HK$1.761 billion will be given to 17,600 licensed catering outlets, about 1,000 cooked food or lightrefreshment-stall operators, and 1,700 licensees of eligible licensed food factories, with subsidies ranging from HK$10,000 to HK$250,000.
Carrie Lam said the government plans to apply to the Finance Committee of the new-term Legislative Council for more money if the funds are used up
The closed bars, nightclubs, karaoke establishments, game centers, and sports premises, can apply for a subsidy of HK$50,000 from Sunday. Clubhouses with additional karaoke services or bars will get an additional HK$25,000.
Subsidies will also be offered to the approximately 1,000 kindergartens and primary schools that were ordered to close since Friday.
Lam said the government plans to apply to the Finance Committee of the new-term Legislative Council for more money if the funds are used up.
Only those who have been vaccinated will be allowed to enter the sites mentioned once they reopen.
Earlier, in an effort to boost local vaccination rates, the government announced that a “vaccine bubble”, which bars those unvaccinated from diners, campuses, and public libraries, would start from Feb 24.
In addition, the suspension of incoming passenger flights from eight countries will be extended by two weeks to Feb 4. They include Australia, Canada, France, India, Pakistan, the Philippines, the United Kingdom, and the United States — the top eight source countries for Hong Kong’s imported omicron cases. Non-Hong Kong residents who have been to Armenia, Bonaire, Guatemala, and New Caledonia in the past 21 days will not be allowed to enter the city from Jan 17.