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Friday, Jul 01, 2022

A Hong Kong in survival mode must also plan for new growth

A Hong Kong in survival mode must also plan for new growth

As the fifth wave recedes, both government and corporate sector must continue to help individuals and struggling businesses, but also prepare for the recovery. Hong Kong also needs to shift from survival to investing in future growth, while still being prepared for the sixth wave.

Hong Kong is slowly emerging from the fifth wave of the coronavirus pandemic, and the government has committed to relaxing some of the restrictions that have isolated us from the rest of the world. But despite the improved outlook, there is still much to be done.

Although we can justifiably hope that we have passed the turning point, many people and businesses are still struggling: their financial and personal resources are exhausted after more than two years of lockdowns and isolation, and they are weighed down by a still-uncertain future.

The government has stepped up with the Employment Support Scheme, tax relief and consumption vouchers, and the recently announced three-phase relaxation of social distancing and quarantine restrictions will all go some way to restoring a sense of normality.

And the corporate sector has also stepped up. From the HK$43 million (US$4.5 million) in prizes donated by members of the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce to encourage people to get vaccinated; to the HK$170 million given by The Hongkong Bank Foundation; to the countless small business owners who have dipped into their savings to keep their staff employed, Hong Kong’s business sector has contributed generously to help our communities get through some of the toughest days the territory has known.

And we cannot afford to stop now. Despite the light on the horizon, many people and businesses are still suffering and will continue to struggle until we are fully back to normal.

The government, the commercial sector and communities need to continue to provide help, both to make sure that those the recovery has not reached are given the assistance they need, and to make sure that businesses have the resources they need for recovery and growth.

The challenges fall into two categories: relieving the immediate continuing burden on people and business, and preparing for the rebound.

Hong Kong has always had its vulnerable populations, including the elderly, the sick and those unable to work, and the pandemic has added to their struggles. Now, more than ever, they need our help.

The government is doing what it can with resources that are stretched to the limit, but we all have our role to play, including the business community and ordinary people. From providing medicine and transport to just visiting and maybe doing some shopping for the homebound, we can all reduce the burden on those who are suffering.

Individual businesses can also play an important part. At a local level, they understand the needs of their communities like no one else and are best placed to recognise and address those needs.

Businesses also have a duty of care to each other. In normal times, a struggling business can be a sign that it is badly conceived or badly run, but that is not the case in the extraordinary time of a pandemic. Many good, well-run businesses are struggling to pay their bills as they are engulfed by a temporary crisis beyond their control.

Before we press for repayment from companies with cash-flow problems, we must remember that they are our customers of the future, and calculate carefully whether the short-term assurance of immediate payment is worth the long-term loss of business if they go bankrupt.

A couple walk past advertisements posted on the facade of a shuttered store in Hong Kong on March 19.

This is particularly true of the big creditors and HSBC, like other banks, is acutely aware of the challenges facing so many of our customers. Since February 2020, we have provided over HK$320 billion in liquidity relief to Hong Kong businesses. We know so many of our customers have good businesses that are suffering through no fault of their own and which will bounce back as Covid-19 becomes little more than a bad memory.

As the pandemic recedes, while helping our fellow citizens and businesses, we also need to shift our focus from survival to investing in future growth. We will be re-emerging into a world that will present new opportunities in digital commerce, more cooperation with the rest of the Greater Bay Area, and a chance to establish ourselves at the heart of the green transformation of Asia.

And if we are to take advantage of these, we need to start moving now. The government’s announcement of the three-phase opening will make planning easier, especially for those in hard-pressed sectors like retail and hospitality.

But the most exciting growth opportunities lie in collaboration with businesses in the Greater Bay Area, and until we have a clear idea of when the border with the mainland will open, planning and investment will be more challenging.

The government needs to prepare in case there is a sixth wave. We have managed to get through the current wave but other parts of the world, like the United States, have seen infection rates start to rise again. The lesson is that we should continue to encourage people to get vaccinated. We can only embrace a long-term recovery when we have widespread protection.

Hong Kong has always had a strong community spirit, and we need to draw on that now to see us through the last days and weeks of these difficult times, but while we are doing that we also need to look to the future and prepare ourselves for new growth.


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