Jobless fear spurs border call

Local | Justin Tong 16 Mar 2020

The jobless rate in Hong Kong is expected to rocket to a new nine-year high, Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po has warned.

Chan said the local economic downturn was a result of the outbreak, a drastic decline in oil prices and a sharp plunge in worldwide investment sentiment.

"Fluctuations in the global economy have created a huge economic burden on Hong Kong," he wrote in a blog posting.

The latest unemployment rate from November to January was 3.4 percent - the highest in three years - with a drop of 14,600 in the employed population.

As of January, the jobless rate for the construction sector rose to a six-year high at 5.7 percent. That of retail, accommodation and catering sectors also remained high at 5.2 percent.

Chan said the government would increase spending, including on around 10,000 small-scale construction works under the HK$22.3 billion Capital Works Reserve Fund, which would benefit 17,000 workers.

He also urged the Legislative Council to pass funding proposals for 37 projects as soon as possible as they involve around 7,700 jobs. The projects, including relocating a water treatment plant as well as construction of columbariums, libraries, elderly homes and community halls, cost about HK$50.1 billion in total.

Ho Lok-sang, a senior researcher in economic policies at Lingnan University, said the new jobless rate would hit 5 percent.

Ho said the government should reopen all border crossings to tourists from mainland cities when there are no new local cases for 28 days to stimulate the tourism sector and the economy.

He added that as there were only a few new cases in mainland provinces lately, it would be safe to allow mainland tourists to enter Hong Kong so the economy would see a "retaliatory rebound."

Ho added: "Given that the situation in the mainland is under control, there is no problem with interactions between people from the mainland and Hong Kong, for example by boosting tourism."

Government subsidies for the tourism and hotel sectors, he said, would be only "a drop in the ocean" if the government does not reopen all its doors to welcome back tourists.

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