Coronavirus allowance aims to contain spread and not encourage infections, officials claim

Published (HKT): 2020.11.23 06:29

A HK$5,000 (US$645) allowance to those who have tested positive for coronavirus should be seen not as an incentive to contract the virus but as a measure to contain the recent surge of infections in the city, said Hong Kong’s health minister.

The government is considering offering one-off HK$5,000 allowances to those who have contracted the virus, regardless of their income levels, and details will be announced later, Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan said on a radio program on Sunday.

In response to a recent surge in COVID-19 clusters that have traced their origins to a number of dance parties, all 14 venues related to the clusters will be closed for five days from Sunday, and those who have been to these venues need to be tested at the earliest, a spokesperson for the food and health bureau said. During this period, dancing and performances are banned across all catering outlets, including bars, as well as nightclubs.

Low-income citizens may not be willing to take the COVID-19 test, worrying that they might not be able to work if they were found to have contracted the virus, Chan said. The allowance aimed to “motivate members of the public to take the test,” rather than encourage them to get infected, she added.

The government might enforce mandatory tests for those who are at high risk of being exposed to the coronavirus, such as the taxi drivers. But on when to issue such a directive, Chan said the government is still in discussions with various taxi drivers’ unions, and announcements are expected to be made soon.

The intention of the indiscriminate HK$5,000 allowance is to stop the spread of the virus in the city, said Under Secretary for Labour and Welfare Ho Kai-ming. Details will be announced in the next few days, he said.

The allowance is not a burden for the government, Ho said, based on the trajectory of the number of infections in Hong Kong. “It’s not a big sum of money in terms of public spending,” he said.

Some citizens have questioned if the allowance would encourage people to contract COVID-19, but Ho said no one would risk their lives for just HK$5,000.

“I hope people can take the virus seriously insteading making jokes about this,” he said.

Ho also admitted that he had seen the comments by Dr. Gabriel Leung, Dean of Medicine of The University of Hong Kong, who was against handing out the allowance indiscriminately. Ho said there are different opinions and it would still take some time to implement the new measure.

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