With Chinese New Year just around the corner, it is a time for everything to begin anew. I would like to take this opportunity to wish you and your family health, happiness and prosperity in the year to come.
Over the past year, the Covid-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc around the world and created uncertainty about the future. But every hardship will ease. With vaccines on the horizon, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and hopefully the borders will reopen soon and our economy will be able to get back on track.
Nearly all industries in Hong Kong have experienced a harsh winter since last year, with sectors like tourism, aviation and retail in the doldrums, while many others have also been badly hit. The business community has already endured so much, but with the ongoing severe epidemic situation and the Employment Support Scheme (ESS) coming to an end, massive closures and layoffs are expected to continue.
In view of this, I have reiterated my call for the Government to help businesses by providing more support, such as suspending MPF contributions for six months to relieve the cash-flow pressure on both employers and employees. I have also urged the Government to launch another round of ESS, with enhanced application procedures and a screening mechanism based on past experience. It should also extend the waivers and subsidies on utilities, sewage and other Government fees, as well as provide rent and rates allowances for six months.
Indeed, a cash handout is not a long-term solution. Reopening the borders as soon as possible is what truly raises hopes for revitalizing Hong Kong’s economy. Recovery will only be possible when cross-border travel reopens and economic activities resume. The Government should consider exempting vaccinated residents from some of the anti-epidemic restrictions: this would have the added benefit of encouraging vaccination.
Despite the devastating impact of the pandemic on the world economy, new opportunities arise in the midst of a crisis.
With the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) having come into effect recently, economic recovery and growth in the Asia-Pacific region are expected to accelerate. Under the pandemic, Mainland China’s technological strength and healthcare quality have gained international recognition. The nation is also the only bright spot among major economies around the world.
To emerge from the current economic difficulties and move forward, Hong Kong needs to seize opportunities arising from the new round of reform and opening-up, and participate in the “dual circulation” strategy and the 14th Five-Year Plan.
The pandemic will be over one day. Hong Kong cannot allow its economy to stall as we work to contain the coronavirus. Instead, we should give full play to our role as a gateway connecting the Mainland and the world, so that everyone can share the fruits of economic growth.