People relax at a promenade next to Victoria Harbour in Hong Kong on April 25, 2022. (DALE DE LA REY / AFP)

HONG KONG – The  Hong Kong government has received a total of 2,150 applications for a one-off cash allowance for locally confirmed COVID-19 patients, as of April 4, the secretary for labor and welfare informed the Legislative Council on Wednesday.

Of the applicants, 1,395 applications were approved, 26 applications rejected and 109 applications withdrawn by the applicants, Law Chi-kwong said in a written reply to a question. 

Launched on Nov 27, 2020, to disburse a one-off ex-gratia cash allowance of HK$5,000 to eligible locally confirmed COVID-19 patients, the Community Care Fund aims to remove the concern of potentially infected persons from coming forward to take tests that they would suffer from financial hardship whilst being hospitalized in public hospitals for treatment if they were tested positive. 

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Reasons for rejection of the applications include applicants being imported COVID-19 cases, not being confirmed COVID-19 cases, entitled to paid sick leave etc, said the labor chief.  

Currently, the government has no plan to adjust the eligibility criteria of the scheme

 Law Chi-kwong, Secretary for Labour and Welfare, HKSAR

Asked whether the government will adjust the eligibility criteria for the cash allowance given that a number of confirmed patients could not be hospitalized for treatment due to the severe overloading of public hospital services and were thus ineligible to apply for the cash allowance, the secretary said the government has no plan to adjust the eligibility criteria of the scheme currently.  

To avail the allowance, an applicant has to be a Hong Kong resident confirmed by the Department of Health to have contracted COVID-19 locally, currently employed but not entitled to paid sick leave or is self-employed and faces financial hardship whilst being hospitalized in public hospitals for COVID-19 treatment.  

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“Since the launch of the Scheme, concerns of the public in undergoing testing have greatly reduced. Compared to some 590,000 tests performed monthly at that time, more than 2.8 million tests were performed in CTCs (community testing centers) and mobile specimen collection stations in March 2022,” said Law.  

In addition, since March 7, more than 440,000 positive results from self-administered rapid antigen test were reported to the health authorities by members of the public, he added. 

Detailing various government measures to assist sectors and people affected by the pandemic, he cited the Temporary Unemployment Relief Scheme launched under the sixth round of the Anti-epidemic Fund, granting a one-off subsidy of HK$10,000 to reduce their financial stress of people who lost their jobs due to the fifth wave of the outbreak.

The government has also introduced a bill to amend the Employment Ordinance stipulating sickness allowance for employees for absence from work due to isolation for infection and being subject to "restriction-testing declarations", he added.