From Xinhua News Agency, Aug. 19, 2020. Complete text:

Hong Kong – With the jobless rate remaining high for the past there months, Hong Kong has stepped up relief measures to help struggling businesses keep afloat and cash-strapped residents make ends meet in its latest effort to mitigate impacts of the COVID-19 epidemic.

The unemployment rate stood at 6.1% in the May-July period, retreating slightly from the over-15-year high of 6.2% from April to June, data from the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) government showed on Wednesday [Aug. 19].

Despite the decline, Secretary for Labor and Welfare of the HKSAR government Law Chi-kwong stressed that “the labor market remained austere***and will remain under significant pressure in the near term.”

The unemployment rate of the consumption- and tourism-related sectors combined edged up to 10.8% in the May-July period, the highest since the SARS outbreak in 2003. Of all, the rate for food and beverage sector stood at 14.6%, and that of the construction sector edged up to 11.3%.

Ronald Wan, chief executive of Partners Capital International, said it is too early to say the labor market has truly improved as sectors from catering to retails are still suffering from the impact of the resurgence of local infections since July.

“The anti-disease fight is still ongoing in Hong Kong***and we should observe how the jobless figure moves in the next month,” Wan said.

Hong Kong has adopted the strictest social distancing measures and restrictions on inbound visitors to cope with a severe epidemic situation. Hong Kong’s Center for Health Protection reported 26 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, bringing the total tally to 4,586.

Given the lackluster job market, the HKSAR government announced earlier this week that the second phase of an over-80-billion-HK-dollar pro-employment subsidy program will be open to applications at the end of August.

The second phase will provide salary subsidies with employers as much as 9,000 Hong Kong dollars ($1,160) per person each month from September to November. Elderly workers, property management companies and supermarkets will also be covered.

Under the program, the HKSAR government will help businesses pay the salaries of their employees in hopes of keeping employers afloat and controlling job losses. Around 43.9 billion Hong Kong dollars have been distributed to employers, with 97% of which as small and medium-sized enterprises, in the first phase from June to August.

Besides, HKSAR Chief Executive Carrie Lam has said that another round of economic stimulus is in the pipeline, without disclosing more details.

Various sectors in Hong Kong have welcomed the new relief measures and urged stronger efforts and faster implementation.

As the high unemployment rate has yet to be contained, the government should take more actions as soon as possible, such distributing cash handouts to the laid-offs, especially to those in hardest-hit sectors including tourism, catering, retail, and transport, Wong Kwok, chairman of the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions, said.

Wong also advised the government to create short-term jobs, like what was done during the SARS outbreak in 2003, and subsidize private organizations willing to add more temporary positions.

Hong Kong’s gross domestic product slumped 9% year-on-year in the second quarter of this year as the economy was dealt “triple blows” from tightened trade environment, prolonged social disturbances, and a severe epidemic situation.

The HKSAR government has already implemented unprecedented relief measures worth nearly 290 billion Hong Kong dollars to help safeguard jobs, support enterprises and relieve people’s financial burdens. ($1 equals 7.75 Hong Kong dollars)