Battered sectors in Hong Kong get another blow from coronavirus
Published: Feb 02, 2020 10:48 PM

Students and staff walk into the campus of Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) in Hong Kong, south China, Jan. 13, 2020. Photo:Xinhua

The spread of the novel coronavirus is dealing a new blow to the battered hospitality, tourism and retail sectors in Hong Kong after months of social unrest that has roiled the city, local industry participants said on Sunday.

The unrest that has heavily hit the local economy has yet to come to a complete stop and the virus is compounding the challenge, adding insult to the injuries the hospitality, tourism and retail sectors have endured, said Chen Qingzhen, a local resident who works in the tourism sector.

"We really have no income now," Chen told the Global Times on Sunday.

As of Saturday, there were 14 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in the city. On the Chinese mainland side, the number had hit 14,380 by Saturday, with the death toll totaling 304, according to the National Health Commission. 

While estimates for the impact of the virus on the local economy remain unavailable, industry observers have priced in future downward pressure from the disease, especially on the battered sectors. 

In a statement on its website in January, the Hong Kong Retail Management Association forecast a yearly double-digit decline. It said first-half sales would fall by 10-20 percent, citing uncertainty from the development of social incidents and the expected wave of shop closures and staff cuts following the traditional peak season for the local retail industry during the Spring Festival holiday.

A greater decline is expected if the impact of the virus is taken into account, industry insiders believe.

The city's economy contracted by 2.9 percent year-on-year in the third quarter of last year, the first yearly contraction since 2009, according to the local government, stressing that the recovery of the local economy would be underpinned by ending violence and restoring calm.

There are few people on the streets and they almost all wear masks, said a local mini grocery store owner who gave his surname as Lee, who witnessed the SARS epidemic in 2003.

Virtually no customers came by, he told the Global Times, noting that the city's social divisions have been widened by the months-long chaos, intensifying panic among local residents who appeared much more unified in the fight against SARS.

The social unrest has heavily affected the number of mainland visitors to Hong Kong while the coronavirus outbreak is making the city brace for a much-wider dip in the hospitality and related businesses as foreign tourists are affected as well, according to Lee.

In another sign, major US airlines have announced they will expand their flight cancellations to both the mainland and Hong Kong.

A restaurant close to Lee's store used to operate two shifts and it has laid off half of its staff lately. It's operating just one shift in an effort to survive the tough times, Lee revealed. 

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