On 15 September 2020, the Hong Kong government announced the third round of Anti-epidemic Fund. The HK$24 billion package will enhance the city's anti-epidemic capabilities and assist industries and individuals hard-hit by COVID-19.
Together with the three other rounds of relief measures introduced this year (namely the first and second rounds of Anti-epidemic Fund of HK$30 billion and HK$120 billion respectively, and the HK$120 billion relief package under The 2020-2021 Budget), the relief measures amount to HK$300 billion in total – the equivalent of 10% of Hong Kong's GDP.
This article provides details of the third round of Anti-epidemic Fund. Refer to our previous article for details of the second round of Anti-epidemic Fund.
Overview of relief package
The key components under the third round of Anti-epidemic Fund cover the following:
- Enhancement of anti-epidemic capability;
- Relief measures to businesses and individuals;
- Rental concessions, waivers of fees and charges and enhanced rates concession; and
- Enhancement of the SME Financing Guarantee Scheme.
1. Enhancement of anti-epidemic capability
The government will allocate HK$13 billion to enhance Hong Kong's anti-epidemic capability, to be used mainly for:
- Procurement of vaccines;
- Providing subvention to the Hong Kong Hospital Authority to combat the epidemic;
- Enhancing the capacity of quarantine facilities, by engaging hotels as designated facilities and operating new quarantine centres in Penny's Bay;
- Setting up quarantine centres for residents of residential care homes for the elderly and persons with disabilities; and
- Subsidy scheme to promote contactless payment in public markets.
2. Relief measures to businesses and individuals
A total of HK4.5 billion will be allocated to provide relief to sectors and individuals hard-hit by the epidemic.
Relief to specific sectors
Relief mostly in the form of one-off subsidy or grant will be provided to 23 sectors which have been affected by the government's anti-epidemic measures or hard-hit by the epidemic. Beneficiaries include:
- Catering, tourism, aviation & transport, sports and arts & culture;
- Child care centres and education;
- Cinemas, places of amusement, beauty parlours and massage establishments;
- Bathhouses, fitness centres, interest class instructors hired by subvented non-governmental welfare organisations, amusement game centres and club-houses;
- Bars / pubs, karaoke establishments, mahjong-tin kau premises, party rooms and nightclubs;
- Companies in performing industry which organise pop concerts and places of public entertainment.
Catering Business Subsidy Scheme
Amongst the measures, the largest financial commitment of HK$1,672 million will be directed to the Catering Business Subsidy Scheme. The scheme will provide a one-off subsidy of HK$25,000 to karaoke establishments, nightclubs, bars/pubs and cooked food stall tenants, as well as a one-off subsidy of HK$50,000 to HK$250,000 to holders of relevant food licences, depending on the licensed area of premise.
Subsidy Scheme for Transport and Aviation Sector
Further, HK$44 million will be allocated to support the aviation sector under the Subsidy Scheme for the Transport and Aviation Sector. The scheme will cover, amongst others, a one-off non-accountable subsidy of HK$500,000 per large aircraft and HK$100,000 per small aircraft registered by Air Operator's Certificate holders, as well as a one-off non-accountable subsidy of up to HK$1.5 million to aviation support services operators at the Hong Kong International Airport.
Relief to unemployed persons
Under the second round of Anti-epidemic Fund, the government launched a time-limited unemployment support scheme through the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance system, under which the asset limits for able-bodied persons is reduced by 100% for six months from 1 June 2020 to 30 November 2020. In the latest round of relief measures, the government will extend the above scheme for six months from 1 December 2020 to 31 May 2021.
3. Rental concessions, waivers of fees and charges and enhanced rates concession
The relief package will involve HK$5 billion to:
- Extend the existing 75% or 100% rental concession or waivers for government premises and short-term tenancies by six months;
- Extend the existing waivers of 27 groups of government fees and charges by one year;
- Provide waivers of seven new groups of government fees and charges for one year;
- Extend the 75% waiver of water and sewage charges payable by non-domestic households for a further four months; and
- Enhance the rates concession to non-domestic properties for the second half of 2020-2021 by increasing the exemption ceiling from HK$1,500 to HK$5,000 per quarter.
Further, the Hong Kong Housing Authority, Hong Kong Housing Society, Airport Authority Hong Kong, Hong Kong Science Park and Cyberport will be invited to provide rental concessions for their tenants.
4. Enhancement of the SME Financing Guarantee Scheme
The government will enhance the Special 100% Loan Guarantee under the SME Financing Guarantee Scheme, which first started to receive applications in April 2020, and has the objective of easing cashflow issues of small and medium-sized enterprises.
In the previous round of relief fund, the maximum amount of loan per enterprise is the total amount of employee wages and rents for six months, or HK$4 million, whichever is lower. Under the latest round of relief fund, the maximum amount will be increased by raising the ceiling from the total amount of employee wages and rents for six months to that for 12 months, or HK$5 million, whichever is lower. The maximum repayment period will also increase from three to five years.
One-Off Allowance for New Arrivals from Low-income Families Programme
In addition to the relief package, the Community Care Fund on 21 September 2020 announced the launch of the One-Off Allowance for New Arrivals from Low-income Families Programme, which will be open for application from 27 September to 31 December 2020. Under the programme, eligible persons will receive a one-off cash allowance of HK$10,000. The Bank of China (Hong Kong) Limited will be the agent bank responsible for accepting applications and the disbursement of the allowance.
Beneficiaries should be aged 18 or above, have settled in Hong Kong for less than seven years as at 31 March 2021, and come from low-income family, i.e. they have passed the family/household-based means-test establishing eligbility for assistance under one of the specified assistance schemes.
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