Precise measures and compulsory testing in cutting transmission chain
Good progress in achieving transitional housing development target
9 May 2021
Today is Mother's Day and I wish all the great mums in Hong Kong good health and happiness. While we gather to celebrate this special day, we should nevertheless bear in mind the need to comply with social distancing measures.
Fighting the epidemic is not only the top priority for our society, but also the most pressing task of the Government. In response to the recent local cases with unknown sources of infection involving mutant strains, the Government has been decisive in taking swift and stringent measures to cut the community transmission chains as soon as possible lest there be another major outbreak that will have dire consequences for the whole of society.
Compulsory testing for foreign domestic helpers made possible through co-operative efforts
As a prudent measure, the Government announced on April 30 that all foreign domestic helpers (FDHs) in Hong Kong who had not completed a COVID-19 vaccination course were required to undergo compulsory testing on or before May 9 (today). The decision was made solely on public health grounds after detailed assessment of various risk factors, including the fact that FDHs' work mainly involves taking care of their employers' family members, which may comprise the elderly and young children. This is on a par with the arrangement for the staff of residential care homes for the elderly, residential care homes for persons with disabilities and nursing homes, who are also subject to compulsory testing.
To cope with the imminent surge in testing demand, the Government set up over 20 additional mobile specimen collection stations in various districts and extended the service period as well as opening hours of some existing stations. More than 280 000 FDHs had their specimens collected at community testing centres (CTCs) and mobile specimen collection stations from May 1 to 7, while another 50 000 have made online bookings for testing to be undertaken at CTCs on May 8 and 9. I would like to thank the FDHs and their employers for contributing to the anti-epidemic efforts by complying with the compulsory testing requirement. For those FDHs who have not yet been tested, please do so as soon as possible today in order to use the free testing service at CTCs or mobile specimen collection stations.
Get vaccinated without delay
The Government is implementing the COVID-19 Vaccination Programme at full swing to provide free vaccination for the local population. There is a global consensus that vaccination is key to overcoming and riding out the pandemic. In fact, many countries have had difficulties securing enough vaccines to contain the virus. Hong Kong, on the contrary, has sufficient doses to vaccinate the entire local population but an unsatisfactory uptake rate. Some people are heedless of the importance of getting vaccinated, while many still want to wait and see. I appeal once again to those who have not yet been vaccinated to do so as early as possible. To those who worry about their fitness for vaccination and the possible side effects, I would like to point out that the common side effects, such as fever, soreness, redness or swelling at the injection site, are generally mild and temporary. Anyone who has doubts about getting vaccinated due to their health condition may consult their family doctor or attending doctor before making up their mind.
Yesterday (May 8) was the 72nd day of the Vaccination Programme since its launch on February 26. So far, about 1 704 400 doses of vaccines have been administered to members of the public, of whom about 648 900 have already received their second dose.
Increasing supply of transitional housing using a multi-pronged approach
While combating the epidemic with an all-out effort, the Government also strives to improve the livelihood of the grassroots by implementing various policy initiatives for the underprivileged under the tripartite partnership among the private sector, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and the Government. One of these is to increase the supply of transitional housing.
The Government attaches great importance to relieving the pressure of families living in poor housing conditions and those who have been on the waiting list for public housing for a long time. Alongside its long-term housing policies and initiatives, the Government is making efficient and flexible use of community resources to increase the supply of transitional housing to cater for those in need.
Progressing well with target almost met
In the 2019 Policy Address, the Chief Executive announced the target of providing 10 000 transitional housing units within the three years from 2020-21 to 2022-23. To further increase the supply, the Government subsequently raised the target to 15 000 units. This is an ambitious goal which can only be achieved through sustained collaboration across different sectors of society. With the Government's efforts and the NGOs' as well as some land owners' full support, we are just one step away from the target.
6 000 people to benefit from transitional housing project at Kong Ha Wai
As at April this year, we have secured sites enough for developing some 14 000 transitional housing units in 2023. Among them, over 1 100 units have been completed and about 2 400 units are under construction for completion between 2021 and 2022. For the project at Sung Wong Toi Road, To Kwa Wan, occupation permits were issued for 110 units last month, which will benefit over 220 people who are now living in inadequate housing conditions. Located favourably in the urban area, these units were more than six times oversubscribed with over 700 applications received so far. Another project is on its way following the groundbreaking ceremony held on March 29 at Kong Ha Wai in Kam Tin, Yuen Long. This transitional housing project, which is the largest ever in Hong Kong, will be home to over 6 000 people, giving them hope and a better place to live in.
Transitional housing project at Tsat Sing Kong to complete in 2023
In March 2020, the Finance Committee of the Legislative Council (LegCo) approved a provision of $5 billion to set up the Funding Scheme to Support Transitional Housing Projects by Non-government Organisations, and an additional injection of $3.3 billion was approved on April 28 this year. So far, 13 transitional housing projects involving about $3.86 billion of subsidies have been approved1 under the Scheme since its launch in June 2020. Among these , the one at Tsat Sing Kong in Pat Heung, Yuen Long, which was approved last month (April), has integrated into its design the United Nation's Sustainable Development Goals, including no poverty, zero hunger, good health and well-being, clean water and sanitation, sustainable cities and communities, and climate action. The project, which will provide about 900 units and benefit over 2 000 people, is expected for completion in the first quarter of 2023.
Tripartite partnership to help the grassroots
The development of transitional housing is progressing well under the tripartite partnership among the private sector, NGOs and the Government. In Hong Kong, many people work hard in pursuit of a decent place to live in. A family which moved from a cramped place to the transitional housing at Nam Cheong Street expressed profound gratefulness for finally having enough space to enjoy family meals at home. With relatively low rent easing their financial burden and community-based family support services provided by the operating organisation to help relieve the stressed-out mothers, the residents of transitional housing will hopefully feel more “at home”.
Innovative use of hotels and guesthouses as transitional housing
The Commission on Poverty has approved funding of $95 million under the Community Care Fund to launch a pilot scheme for NGOs to use suitable rooms in hotels and guesthouses with relatively low occupancy rates as transitional housing, which is expected to provide about 800 units. The eligibility criteria of beneficiary households and rental level will be on a par with other transitional housing projects. NGOs may formulate detailed criteria of target applicants having regard to the service features of individual projects. Rents should be set at tenants' affordable level and lower than the market rent in the same district with a ceiling of no more than 40% of the prevailing public rental housing income limit of corresponding household types. This innovative pilot scheme serves dual purposes as it will not only tide the tourism sector over the prevailing downturn in inbound tourism, but will also relieve the housing pressure on low-income families by increasing the supply of transitional housing within a short space of time. The scheme has been open for registration starting April 1 this year, and has so far received an overwhelming response from over 150 hotels and guesthouses. We are processing the registration applications as expeditiously as possible, and will compile the List of Hotels and Guesthouses registered for Use as Transitional Housing for NGOs to select their partnering hotels or guesthouses.
Although our target of providing 15 000 transitional housing units is in sight, to solve the shortage of housing in the long run, we must secure land for housing development, which is key to addressing the demand-supply imbalance. The Government will adopt a multi-pronged approach to increase land supply through short, medium and long term measures, and pool together efforts of the private sector and NGOs as well as the full support of various sectors of the community in an endeavour to provide adequate housing for members of the public.
1The 13 transitional housing projects are located at Kong Ha Wai, Kam Tin, Yuen Long; Chatham Road North, Hung Hom; Yip Shing Street, Kwai Chung; Tung Tau, Yuen Long; Hoi Hing Road, Tsuen Wan; Ex-Tsuen Wan Lutheran School premises, Cheung Shan Estate, Tsuen Wan; Dah Way Industrial Building, 86 Hung To Road, Kwun Tong; Yau Ma Hom Road, Kwai Chung; Ex-Salvation Army Sam Shing Chuen Lau Ng Ying School premises; Choi Hing Road, Choi Hung; Tsat Sing Kong, Pat Heung and Kam Tin, Yuen Long; Wong Yue Tan, Plover Cove, Tai Po; and Cheung Shun Street, Cheung Sha Wan.