Fighting a two-front battle
With the recent surge in local COVID-19 cases, the epidemic situation in Hong Kong has become unclear again. We are highly alerted to the development. Secondary and primary schools and kindergartens will start their summer holiday earlier in this week, and the restriction on the number of customers allowed in restaurants has been tightened. As the number of new cases increases and some of the sources of infection could not be traced, we need to have high awareness in disease prevention by wearing face masks and washing our hands frequently to maintain good personal hygiene.
The unclear epidemic situation has added uncertainties to the road to economic recovery. With most citizens staying in Hong Kong due to the pandemic, this summer holiday used to be a golden period to boost local consumption and bring more businesses to retail shops and restaurants. However, as people reduces social gathering due to the latest epidemic situation, consumption activities may be delayed, affecting our economy to some extent.
Indeed, the efforts for both fighting against the disease and economic recovery are a test of our endurance.
The Government's anti-epidemic strategy is to strike a right balance and make timely response. When facing a surge in the number of cases, we have to tighten up restriction measures to suppress the increase so as to protect the health of the people and prevent the overload of our health and medical system. When the situation is brought under control, we should lift the restrictions in a timely manner so as to minimize impacts to the economy as well as inconvenience caused to people.
On promoting economic recovery, our strategy is to respond flexibly and maintain people's confidence. For example, even the number of confirmed cases bounced up again recently, many people do online shopping while staying at home. As long as we can maintain people's confidence in economic outlook and adequate capital in the market, people will for sure go out for shopping and dining again once the epidemic is subsided. During this testing time, if shops could make better use of their online sales platform to maintain business, they will be able to attract more customers through their physical shops once the economy starts to recover.
Economies around the world have gained experience over the past months in fighting against the pandemic. Keeping a high awareness of hygiene and taking preventive measures are important. Although going out less is also useful in combating the disease, prolonged suspension of most of the economic and livelihood activities could weaken our capability in fighting against the virus in the long run. Therefore, it is essential for us to maintain some of the economic activities and fulfill the daily living needs of people when we continue with our anti-epidemic efforts.
To stimulate consumption and maintain the confidence of the market, the HK$ 10,000 Cash Payout Scheme (the Scheme) is a significant part of our strategy.
Since the Scheme started to receive registration on June 21, more than 6.2 million registrations have been received as at last Friday. About 80 per cent of these registrations (i.e. 5 million registrations) were submitted electronically through banks, and most of them have started to receive the payment since last Monday. I would like to express my gratitude again to the banks, Hongkong Post, and other departments for their efforts made, as well as the support of the citizens, which contributed to the smooth implementation of the scheme.
As the ratio of registrations submitted through banks electronically is higher than expected, authentication procedures could be streamlined and the processing time could be speeded up. Therefore, citizens submitted registrations by using paper forms to receive payments through cheque or bank account transfer will start getting the payment by this Wednesday (July 15), which is five days earlier than our original plan. For the 630 000 citizens registered by using paper form under the first batch (i.e. those born in 1955 or before), if they choose to receive payment through bank account transfer, the payment will be credited to their designated bank account on this Wednesday. For those choosing to collect cheque, they will receive notifications from the Hongkong post on cheque collection.
Whether it is about boosting the economy, or fighting against the virus, we will deliver our best to bring the pandemic under control, maintain people's confidence and stabilise the economy.
July 12, 2020