Hong Kong’s construction industry contracted by 4.4 per cent in 2020, due in part to the disruptions caused by the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, subsequent lockdown measures and uncertainty following political interference, the Business Wire stated. The industry had been struggling amid a general slowdown in residential construction and a sharp drop in transport infrastructure works.
Referring to the BCI Asia Research & Economics’ Hong Kong Review & Forecast in 2020, a contraction in construction start values of 1.85 percent in 2020 is seen mainly because of restrictions as a response to curb the spread of the virus which affected project sites, the delivery and shipment of building materials and the mobility of laborers and workers.
In 2021, the construction industry is expected to register growth of 1.5 per cent in real terms, supported by a recovery in global economic conditions and government investment on infrastructure projects to revive economic growth. Thus, the HKSAR government continue to support the infrastructure sector’s recovery by doing several acts; and below are four of them.
The Hong Kong construction market is anticipated to reach HKD 244,341 million in 2021 with 70 percent contribution from building sector activities. With an estimated annual expenditure of over HKD 100 billion in the next few years, the government is continuing the infrastructure investment to help the industry to overcome the economic challenges by meeting the demand for financial support from front-line construction enterprises facing acute financial challenges.
Construction Industry Anti-epidemic Fund
On 24 February 2020, the Construction Industry Council (CIC) launched the Construction Industry “Anti-epidemic Fund” provided by the government. Each eligible registered worker can apply for a one-off subsidy of HKD1,500 through Safety App mobile application in a simple and efficient way, which assists them in purchasing personal protective equipment to maintain good personal hygiene.
The CIC urges the industry to strengthen awareness of epidemic prevention. Thus, eligible consultants, contractors, registered specialist trade contractors and registered subcontractors can apply for a one-off subsidy of HKD50,000 to enhance workplace cleanliness and sanitation for epidemic prevention.
As announced on 24 June 2020, the fund is also available for applications from suppliers of construction-related machineries and equipment rental.
Per 9 August 2020, more than HKD4.8 billion in subsidies had been disbursed to 490,000 construction workers and 19,000 construction-related enterprises.
Construction Industry COVID-19 Testing Service Scheme
The government conducts on-site testing services. This provides convenience for the workers to undergo the tests; and minimises costs borne by employers. The government also established inspection teams to review the preventive measures adopted at various construction sites.
On 22 December 2020, the CIC and the Hong Kong Construction Association (HKCA), with support from the Development Bureau, jointly launched the scheme to provide on-site testing services to further strengthen the preventive measures at construction sites.
The scheme has so far provided testing services to over 22,000 workers at 93 sites and 99.98 per cent of their test results were negative. Four confirmed cases have been identified so far and were handled by the Centre for Health Protection of the Department of Health according to the established mechanism. The contractors concerned were also notified promptly that there were confirmed cases at their sites and arranged follow-up work accordingly.
The scheme arranges for a professional testing service provider to visit both public and private construction sites and provide voluntary COVID-19 testing for construction workers and site personnel. With the subsidy provided by the CIC and the HKCA, developers/main contractors only need to pay part of the testing fee to offer testing services to workers and site staff who voluntarily join the Scheme.
Sustained Enhancement at the Project Site
The Civil Engineering and Development Department (CEDD) have been striving hard to uphold hygienic conditions on site, through the implementation of various preventive measures.
Observing the guidelines of the Centre for Health Protection (CHP), the teams have been strictly enforcing a range of measures. Among these are body temperature checking for all people entering the sites, the provision of surgical masks and other protective equipment, requirements for all personnel on site to wear masks, and the provision of changing, resting places and toilet facilities in multiple locations to suit the works fronts. Besides, the teams have stepped up the cleaning and disinfection of work environments, including daily cleaning and disinfection of changing rooms and toilets.
To ensure the proper implementation of preventive measures against the pandemic, the contractor is limiting the number of people simultaneously using the changing facilities at any one time, similarly for the resting places. Moreover, each worker will be assigned a designated location for resting and changing, in order to reduce the risk of cross infection.
Accelerating the Industry Transformation
The government has launched a self-developed Housing Electronic Plan Submission System (HePlan), to approve building plan applications uninterruptedly during the COVID-19 pandemic. HePlan is the first electronic submission and comprehensive e-service for submission and approval of building plans.
“The HePlan system utilises digitalisation technology which improves the quality of service and efficiency in the approval of building plans. Since the HePlan operates round-the-clock on the web, applicants will not have any time restriction and are able to submit their applications at any time suitable for them. The process will not be affected by the special work arrangements under the pandemic,” said Martin Tsoi, Head of the Independent Checking Unit (ICU) under the Office of the Permanent Secretary for Transport and Housing.
In brief, countries in Asia have introduced drastic measures to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic, which has adversely impacted the economy. Construction sectors are key in the recovery so it is essential to continue to roll out and sustain the support initiatives. — Construction+ Online