Hong Kong’s tourism sector is struggling to survive with the shortage of people coming to the city. (Photo from South China Morning Post)
HONG KONG: Hong Kong’s battered tourism sector has urged the government to reopen its border with mainland China as soon as possible or at least extend the lifespan of Covid-19 vaccination centers, where more than 1,000 employees from the industry work part-time.
The city closed all but three border checkpoints in February last year as part of its response to the coronavirus crisis, dealing a heavy blow to tourism.
Authorities have refused to reopen the borders amid the city’s low vaccination rate and their commitment to a “zero infection” policy, rather than adopt a “live with the virus” strategy favored by some other jurisdictions. .
Sara Leung Fong-yuen, president of the General Union of Hong Kong Tourism Industry Employees, said nearly 100 travel agencies closed permanently during the health crisis, while the 1,600 tour operators still operating had barely made any money in the past 18 months.
“Some people have taken on temporary jobs as security guards, food delivery couriers or cleaners, in the hope that things could get back to normal and that they could continue their work in the travel industry,” said Leung, adding that the wages of these changing industries had halved.
She estimated that some 20,000 people previously employed as travel agents and tour guides felt like they were “waiting for the light in an endless tunnel”, as the government stuck to its strict approach to inbound travel and travel. quarantine for over a year and counting.
In March, the government threw a lifeline to unemployed tourism staff by offering them nearly 2,000 temporary jobs to help run the city’s immunization centers. However, the 29 community vaccination centers are only expected to operate until the end of September.
Ann Yu Li-hua, president of the General Union of Professional Tour Guides of Hong Kong, said she hoped the government could extend the closing date to the end of the year.
“It would help both ways. On the one hand, tourism workers will not have to worry about finding a job when there is no plan yet to open the borders, and at the same time, we can let more people get vaccinated until we reach collective immunity, ”Yu said.
It is estimated that people hired to work in vaccination centers receive a monthly salary of between HK $ 10,000 (baht 42,000) and HK $ 40,000.
On Monday, some 3.07 million people in Hong Kong, or 40.9 percent of the city’s 7.5 million people, received at least one dose of the vaccine, while 2.27 million people took two doses, or 30.3%.
Collective immunity can be achieved when 70% of the population has received both vaccines, according to government advisers.
Authorities have paid at least HK $ 1.12 billion in subsidies to travel agent operators and workers employed in the industry through its anti-epidemic fund. The last round of support was postponed in April.