Covid subsidy rules tightened

Top News | 24 Nov 2020

Michael Shum

A HK$5,000 subsidy will be granted to Hongkongers who do not enjoy paid sick leave and see a cut in income after they are hospitalized for Covid-19, says Secretary for Labour and Welfare Law Chi-kwong.

At a press conference yesterday, Law announced the criteria for applying for the one-off payment in response to criticisms that the government should not give every patient the money.

Law said only those infected locally can apply for the payment.

And they must be employed or self employed, hospitalized, and must declare that they saw their income decrease since their infection and face financial difficulties.

Those who enjoy paid sick leave will not be eligible. Law also said the handout aims to help those who will lose their income once they stop working.

It is not meant to encourage residents to take a virus test, but instead to eliminate worries that may deter them from taking the test, he added.

"I have to reiterate that the handout is to assist infected grassroots people who are not taking virus tests because they fear they will not be able to work once they test positive," Law said.

"This handout is to encourage an early identification of infected persons, followed by early isolation and treatment to effectively curb the spread of Covid-19 in Hong Kong."

Although there will be no means test, authorities will be checking applicants' declarations.

"Means testing will complicate and prolong the application process, as applicants will have to provide many documents," Law said.

"Bear in mind they are already infected by Covid-19.

"Complicated procedures will be more intrusive than helpful to citizens. The requirement for applicants to make a declaration that they are eligible for the handout can strike a balance between assisting people and preventing abuse."

Making a false declaration may lead to criminal liabilities or even imprisonment, which Law said should be an adequate deterrent.

Patients who have been infected locally since last Sunday and fit the criteria can apply through social workers stationed in public hospitals starting on Friday.

Roundtable lawmaker Michael Tien Pak-sun said the government is "doing harm while acting in good faith."

He added: "Taxpayers' money should be put to good use. It is very simple this time: just tell them to hand in proof of their income, that's it.

"For those who are paid in hourly rates, daily rates just set up a cap for their salary. How hard would it be to vet the applications, given the scale is so small?"

This came a day after Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan Siu-chee said there would be "no means test. "

Her remarks received backlash, with many questioning the need to give out a universal subsidy and whether it would encourage people to contract the virus.

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