Coronavirus: HK$5,000 subsidy for those who contract Covid-19 in HK will only cover workers not entitled to paid sick leave

25-Nov-2020 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:51 AM Print This Post

A HK$5,000 handout for Hong Kong workers who contract Covid-19 locally would only be available to those not entitled to paid sick leave, the government said on Monday, after caving in to public pressure to tighten the criteria for the benefit.

Secretary for Labour and Welfare Law Chi-kwong said the subsidy would only cover residents who faced substantial deductions to their income and would suffer financial difficulties when hospitalised, such as taxi drivers, the self-employed and freelancers. “There will be no means test… but I do not expect some high-income groups to be entitled to such a subsidy,” he said. “To do a means test will only prolong the application process and it can be hard for the applicants too, as they have to provide a lot of information while they suffer from Covid-19.”

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Law said those who had been infected locally from Sunday onwards would be eligible for the subsidy, and could apply through medical social workers at public hospitals. He expected applications for the subsidies to be allowed by Friday.

Applicants would need to tell the social workers some basic details, such as their addresses and occupations, and make a declaration when they apply, as well as bear legal responsibility for any false claims. The Social Welfare Department will handle all applications and carry out random cross-checks.

“Millions of full-time employees in Hong Kong are entitled to some paid sick leave by their company and they will not be able to get the subsidy,” Law added.

“I need to clarify, we are not encouraging people to get tested. It is because we are carrying out mandatory testing for certain groups of people and we are concerned that some people might be hesitant to get tested.”

Law added that the new subsidy would not extend to any close contacts of confirmed cases who had to be quarantined as a precautionary measure, as it would be too challenging for authorities to confirm their identities, increasing the potential for abuse of the scheme.

The government has not calculated the overall costs, but Law said he believed it would not be onerous. The amount of the subsidy, he noted, had been calculated based on the minimum wage of HK$37.5 per hour.

The move is part of a wider strategy to stem community transmissions and combat a rapidly escalating fourth wave of coronavirus infections, which has pushed the daily number of new confirmed cases from a low of four last week to 73 on Monday.

The details of the scheme came one day after Secretary for Food and Health Professor Sophia Chan Siu-chee said applicants would not be means-tested, but that recipients would be people with a need for the subsidy. She did not mention any criteria at the time.

Two government advisers, Professor David Hui Shu-cheong and Professor Gabriel Leung, later publicly suggested that the subsidy should only target those whose livelihoods would be jeopardised, such as taxi drivers, to avoid misallocation of resources.

Some members of the public incensed over the cluster of cases linked to local dance clubs also accused the government of effectively subsidising reckless behaviour that resulted in infections, while penalising taxpayers who followed social-distancing measures.

Federation of Trade Unions lawmaker Wong Kwok-kin, a member of the city leader’s de facto cabinet, the Executive Council, said he had been among those advocating for the new subsidy, but thought Chan had bungled Sunday’s announcement given the virulent criticism swirling around the dance cluster.

“The timing was wrong. The government had not finalised any details yet,” Wong said.

Still, he added: “I think society’s response on Sunday was too emotional. I don’t think anyone would deliberately get infected so they can get HK$5,000.”

Hui, of Chinese University, said the new criteria announced on Monday “are more appropriate, as they help those in need”.

Carol Ng Man-yee, chairwoman of the Confederation of Trade Unions, said the subsidies should also be extended to some of those forced to quarantine, as “close contacts or colleagues of confirmed cases may suffer, such as some construction workers who… are self-employed”.

Subsidies for low-income workers under quarantine or in hospital due to Covid-19 are not unprecedented, though many similar schemes around the world require proof of an applicant’s need.

For example, the Victoria state government in Australia provides HK$8,520 (US$1,100) every 14 days to workers who are either diagnosed with coronavirus or a close contact of a confirmed case.

Workers are eligible if they have no appropriate leave entitlement left, or if their employers are not able to pay their leave entitlements due to financial constraints. Applicants, however, have to fill in forms and provide proof of employment.

In England, the government also put forward a statutory sick pay programme in which Covid-19 patients can get HK$992 (US$108) per week. The subsidy is paid by employers for up to 28 weeks after workers provide proof of isolation or a sick note issued by a doctor.


Category: Hong Kong

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