Fighting against the disease together
The epidemic situation of novel coronavirus infection has escalated rapidly in the past weeks, with cases confirmed in different regions. Preventing and stopping the epidemic is now top priority across the world. Strengthened measures have been put in place in different places to reduce the risk of epidemic spread in the community. Given the surge demand for anti-epidemic materials worldwide, Hong Kong is facing increasing challenges in sourcing related materials.
The Chief Executive announced a new round of anti-epidemic arrangements last week, including extending the suspension of secondary schools, primary schools, kindergartens, child care centres and special schools, and extending the special work arrangements for civil servants. Together with the earlier announced entry restrictions on Hubei Province residents and those who has been to Hubei Province in the past 14 days, and the suspension of issuance of endorsement under the Individual Visit Scheme, all these measures can help reduce cross-border and local flow of people, with the aim of minimizing the risk of spreading the disease in the community. We also appeal to employers to make flexible work arrangements for their employees so as to reduce unnecessary travels in the community. At the same time, the government will coordinate inter-bureau efforts to enhance the sourcing processes of needed anti-epidemic materials in the global market, and strive to stabilize their local supply.
Apart from government's work, individuals should also build up good body immunity, reduce travel, maintain good personal hygiene and stay alert. Rumors, hatred, and negative actions cannot help. We have to be united and support each other to add power to fight against the virus.
Hong Kong's economy experienced a negative growth in 2019. As we enter 2020, the virus outbreak together with the challenges already posed by the social unrest in the past months mean a double blow for our economy. The catering, retail, tourism and consumer-based industries, which have been under pressure in the past six months or so, will fall into a deeper winter, and small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and workers will face greater pressure too. Prior to the virus outbreak, different organisations estimated that Hong Kong's economic growth this year will range between negative 4.1% to 2%, with the median at zero. Government has yet to finalise the economic forecast for this year, of which the development and duration of the epidemic will be one of the main considerations. We expect that the virus outbreak will greatly increase the risk of continued economic contraction this year, leading to a decrease in government revenue and an increase in expenditure, which means that the fiscal deficit may rise further.
Nonetheless, to equip Hong Kong to fight against the disease, I will ensure that all anti-epidemic efforts, as well as the medical system, will be provided with sufficient financial resources. As for the financial market, I have been leading and coordinating relevant departments and financial regulators in monitoring the market timely and comprehensively. Although the spread of the virus has added pressure on the stock markets of Hong Kong and other major overseas markets, transactions and settlements in Hong Kong are still proceeding in a stable and orderly manner. In the future, we will remain vigilant and continue to monitor the market closely to ensure the financial security of Hong Kong.