Coronavirus: Hong Kong retailers battered by outbreak can start applying for cash handouts next week

Denise Tsang

Hong Kong retailers struggling to survive amid the coronavirus outbreak can apply for one-off cash handouts under the government’s HK$5.6 billion financial aid package beginning next Monday, with the relief to arrive next month at the earliest.

The government will offer about HK$80,000 to some 70,000 retailers under the programme as part of a broader HK$30 billion effort aimed at combating the effects of the pandemic on the economy, which fell into a recession in the third quarter of last year after months of social unrest and a protracted trade war between China and the United States.

A salesman waits for customers at a store in Causeway Bay in Hong Kong. Photo: Sun Yeung

Under details unveiled on Monday, retailers operating chain stores with the same business registration can apply for the handout, capped at HK$3 million, which means up to 38 stores can receive about HK$80,000 each. The company must have been registered before January 1, still open and selling products in a physical store. Online retailers are excluded.

Applications will only be done online, with the window closing on April 12, and companies that file first will not necessarily receive the earliest handouts, according to the government.

Retail sales worsened in January, falling 19.4 per cent from the previous month and 21.4 per cent against a year ago. The tourism sector was hit as immigration rules were tightened, with arrivals dropping 53 per cent in January, year on year, and falling by more than 96 per cent in February against 12 months ago.

The government introduced the HK$30 billion package on February 20 to help sectors including retail, food and beverage, transport, arts, culture and tourism.

Restaurants, canteens, snack shops, food manufacturing plants and bakeries can apply for a cash grant of either HK$80,000 or HK$200,000, with further details about who qualifies for the higher amount still to be announced.

As for social enterprises, which generally do not have a business registration, they can apply for the fund after obtaining proof of their function from the non-governmental Hong Kong Council of Social Service.

No handouts for many Hong Kong small businesses

Pauline Wong, owner of The Tree stationery store in Causeway Bay, said she would apply for the financial aid, which would help her get through at least a few months.

Wong said business had slowed to a trickle, far worse than during the second-half of last year when Hong Kong was rocked by the protests, and she was recently forced to let go a part-time saleswoman.

“There are virtually no shoppers,” she said. “People stay at home and are not in any mood to spend. A customer told me that she will save the money for face masks instead.”

Wong said she expected sales to remain low for some time as the battered stock market would leave consumers even less likely to spend.

This article Coronavirus: Hong Kong retailers battered by outbreak can start applying for cash handouts next week first appeared on South China Morning Post

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