More than 68,000 applications were filed with the government on the first day of the HK$81 billion Employment Support Scheme.
Up to 6pm yesterday, the government had received more than 41,000 applications from employers and about 27,000 applications from self-employed people, a spokesman said.
Under the scheme, the government will pay half of the salaries of employees for six months, with the amount capped at HK$9,000 each per month.
About two million employees are covered, with the first tranche covering June to August.
They also include about 215,000 self-employed, who can apply for a one-off lump sum of HK$7,500, provided they have activated their MPF accounts by the end of March.
Although the scheme cannot protect employees from salary cuts, it discourages employers from laying off staff during the pandemic by containing a "no-sacking" rule.
However, the rule does not mean the companies cannot sack individuals, just that employers' overall headcount from June to August should be no fewer than that of March, or they will receive penalties. On May 18, labor and welfare secretary Law Chi-kwong said the government will randomly inspect headcounts at companies.
He also said the government had set up a complaint mechanism for employees to make reports against employers.
However, Carol Ng Man-yee, chairwoman of the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions, called the complaint mechanism unreasonable.
"Information on the headcount is kept by senior management only, and typical employees do not have access to them," she said. "Therefore, it is difficult for employees to see if their employer has breached the rules of the scheme, not to mention snitching on their employer."
Joe Chau Kwok-ming, chairman of the small and medium enterprises committee of trade and industry department, said it is expected that some companies will sack higher-paid staff before hiring lower-paid employees and applying for the scheme.
Applications will open until June 14.