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Wednesday, Apr 08, 2020

Coronavirus: Hong Kong’s low-income families struggling to afford masks and disinfectant, new study claims

Society for Community Organisation says results show nearly 70 per cent of families struggling
Nearly 70 per cent of low-income families in Hong Kong cannot afford to buy masks or disinfectant, and are experiencing increased levels of stress over the coronavirus epidemic, a human rights advocacy group has claimed.

The Society for Community Organisation (SoCO) released the findings of its latest survey on Sunday, as they backed calls for a HK$10,000 cash handout for all residents ahead of Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po’s budget on Wednesday.

A HK$990 million special allowance package for low-income working families and children was set aside by the government in its HK$30 billion relief package last week, but the NGO said that was not enough for most families.

The survey, conducted between February 11 and 18, found more than 60 per cent of the 397 low-income families polled – with a median household income of about HK$13,000 – had fewer than 10 masks in stock at home.

More than 66 per cent said household income had been impacted by the outbreak, with some families seeing a drop of up to HK$10,000 over the past month. Some 24 per cent said family members were out of a job during the epidemic.

Wen Qifei, 36, lives with her husband and two children, aged two and four, in a 120 sq ft subdivided flat in Sham Shui Po. She said her family had only about 10 masks left at home, but her husband, who works in construction as the family’s sole breadwinner, would need to use at least two masks per day at work.

“We avoid going outside [to save masks]. Masks were not available in chain stores, but at dispensaries it costs up to HK$100 for four masks and we can’t afford those,” she said.

Wen’s family could receive up to HK$6,000 from the government’s special working family allowance and student financial assistance subsidies, but she said the subsidy was barely enough as her monthly rent costs about HK$5,000.

Lau Choi-yu, a woman in her 70s, said she would reuse one mask for three to four days by placing fruit peel under the mask to avoid it getting wet.

“I’m worried that they will be used up, but I simply don’t know where to buy them,” she said.

SoCO community organiser Sze Lai-shan said many low-income families were facing more serious problems than others, adding that some families in subdivided flats had their toilet and kitchen in the same area, which increased the risks of infection.

“Some families, especially those who live in crowded subdivided flats or cage homes, face a much higher risk of cross infection if they stay at home, but they also don’t have enough masks and disinfectants [so they can’t go out],” she said.

On Sunday, masks were on sale for between HK$210 and HK$350 per 50 masks in Mong Kok, while a bottle of 500ml alcohol hand rub cost up to HK$98.

Meanwhile, the Hong Kong Community Anti-Coronavirus Link, a newly formed group including pro-establishment figures, said it would handed out up to 1 million masks at more than 400 distribution spots across the city from Sunday and over the next few days, including 100,000 for distribution through its online platform.

The city’s largest pro-establishment party, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB), gave out bleach in Tai Wai on Sunday morning as dozens of residents queued up to collect it in their own bottles.

DAB chairwoman Starry Lee Wai-king called for authorities to sort out the supply of masks, and said Hong Kong citizens were “crying out loud for help”.

She also called on the government to implement controls on masks and antiseptic materials.
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