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HK$30b relief fund gets an overwhelming nod

By Kathy Zhang and Li Bingcun | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2020-02-22 12:39

HONG KONG-Hong Kong lawmakers overwhelmingly passed the government’s HK$30 billion epidemic relief package after a marathon 10-hour meeting of the Legislative Council’s Finance Committee on Friday, with 59 votes for and three against.

The government submitted the special funding request after announcing last week its plan to set up a fund to subsidize a wide range of sectors in the community, as well as individuals, who have been adversely affected by the battered economy amid the coronavirus epidemic.

As part of the package, hard-hit industries, including the retail, catering, transport, culture and tourism sectors, will receive financial aid, accounting for more than half of the funding.

In a statement after the vote, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor expressed gratitude for the legislators’ support for the funding, saying the fund will help the city fight the epidemic and ride out this difficult period.

She vowed the SAR government will spare no effort in implementing the relief measures and grant the subsidies to enterprises and individuals as soon as possible.

At the special council meeting, some lawmakers expressed concern over the lack of aid for some industries or groups not covered by measures in the package, such as the beauty industry, private education centers and the information technology field.

Lam promised to continue listening to the views of all sectors and introduce more relief measures if necessary.

The 2020-21 Budget to be unveiled by the financial secretary on Wednesday will include steps to boost the local economy and alleviate the financial hardships of residents, she said.

Meanwhile, the second aircraft chartered by the SAR government to evacuate Hong Kong passengers from the quarantined cruise ship Diamond Princess from Japan took off from Tokyo’s Haneda Airport Friday night, carrying 84 Hong Kong residents who had been stranded aboard the vessel since Feb 4. The flight ariived at Hong Kong International Airport around 1:30 am on Saturday.

The latest batch of passengers was allowed to leave Japan after testing negative for the virus. They will be taken to the newly built Chun Yeung public housing estate in Fo Tan for a 14-day quarantine immediately after they return.

The first 106 Hong Kong passengers from the Diamond Princess, who returned to Hong Kong on another chartered flight on Wednesday, are also being accommodated at Chun Yeung under a two-week quarantine.

The government is planning a third flight to Tokyo to pick up the rest of the Hong Kong passengers, thought to number a few dozen who have had close contact with infected Hong Kong residents aboard the ship, Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu said on Friday.

Sixty-six of the 364 Hong Kong passengers have been diagnosed with the disease, with 41 others listed as having close contact with them.

Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan Siu-chee said the Japanese government has allowed the 41 close contacts to leave Japan on charter flights.

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