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Hong Kong to Issue SARS Relief Package


Hong Kong's leader Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa has issued a relief package to help the city's businesses and residents pull though economic difficulties brought on by the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.

Hong Kong residents and business on Wednesday were told relief from the economic fallout caused by the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome outbreak is on the way.

SARS, which has infected 1,400 people in Hong Kong and killed almost a hundred, has reduced tourism and business travel to the territory to a trickle.

Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa announced economic relief measures amounting to $1.5 billion on Wednesday. He says the government is reducing property taxes and sewage charges temporarily.

Thousands of small businesses that rent space in public housing complexes will get a 50 percent cut in rent. And tourism and entertainment businesses can look forward to special loans to help them meet payrolls. All Hong Kong residents will get a tax rebate of up to 50 percent.

Mr. Tung says the measures will be put to the city's legislature on Wednesday afternoon, and if passed will go into effect immediately.

The plan includes $128 million earmarked for a campaign to promote Hong Kong once the SARS outbreak is under control. He says the publicity campaign should help restore confidence in business travelers and tourists.

One hundred-sixty six million dollars will be put into medical research and improving the city's health care system.

The measures, Mr. Tung says, should help save jobs, but not add to the territory's fiscal budget, which amounts to about $10 billion. "The measures seek to relive the short-term impact of atypical pneumonia on our economy," he says. "They have also taken in to account of the medium term to make sure our budget is in the balance, and the possible impact of the package on the financial market."

One financial analyst says that as long as the relief measures are temporary, the package should not hurt Hong Kong's credit worthiness.

Hong Kong financial secretary earlier this year pledged to balance the territory's budget by 2007.

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