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Coronavirus adds new hurdle for Hong Kong’s integration into China’s Greater Bay Area plans

The novel coronavirus outbreak has added a fresh obstacle for Hong Kong’s integration into China’s Greater Bay Area plan, as the epidemic is discouraging workers from taking jobs across the border.

China on February 18 last year laid out a blueprint to transform Hong Kong, Macau and nine cities in southern China into a centre of innovation and technology that rivalled the San Francisco and Tokyo Bay areas.

The ambitious plan was set back when anti-government protests erupted in Hong Kong last year and faces fresh uncertainty as transport restrictions limit the flow of people between the financial hub and mainland China.

Robert Sheffield, Greater China managing director at global recruitment consultancy, Morgan McKinley, said the number of jobs in the mainland part of the region was stable, but there was a “the lack of applicants looking to relocate into that area”.

Coronavirus: cross-border commuters rush back to Hong Kong before city imposes quarantine measures

“[It] is largely driven by the political situation, and then obviously the coronavirus situation that we are currently facing,” Sheffield said. He added the reduced number of candidates in the first half of the yearwould drive employers to take special measures to attract applicants.


Big business join fight vs COVID-19

More conglomerates are stepping up to the plate to help the country fight the spread of COVID-19 and cushion its effects of Filipinos.

These big businesses include the Ayala group, the country’s oldest conglomerate, the SM group, the Gokongwei group, diversified conglomerate San Miguel Corporation, and the Aranetas.

Ayala Chairman Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala and President Fernando Zobel de Ayala announced a P2.4 billion emergency response package that will help alleviate the effects of business closures on its workers, tenants, and customers.

The Zobels said the P2.4 billion consists of wages, bonuses, leave conversions and loan deferments primarily for the extended workforce of employers so they may continue to be paid for the duration of the quarantine period.

These include P600 million in salary continuance for displaced workers from construction sites, shuttered malls and retail spaces.

Globe Telecoms has earmarked P270 million for its retail store support staff and vendor partners while all other Ayala companies will reserve another P130 million in personnel-related financial support.

Furthermore, Ayala Malls will be providing a rent-free period for malls that are not allowed to operate during the community quarantine and this will be worth around P1.4 billion in rent condonation so the merchants can in turn provide the much-needed financial support for their employees.


Meanwhile, the Gokongwei Brothers Foundation (GBF) announced the establishment of a P100 million fund to to support national and local frontline health providers currently serving in various hospitals to combat the dreaded disease and the local communities where the conglomerate’s various businesses operate.

As an immediate step, GBF will provide urgently needed personal protective equipment (PPE), such as surgical masks, for health care front liners, as well as rapid test kits. The U.P. Medical Foundation, Inc. and PGH Medical Foundation, Inc. are among the select institutions in GBF’s priority list.

The fund earmarked by GBF is over and above the ongoing initiatives that the various companies under the Gokongwei Group are spearheading on their own.

Universal Robina Corporation is donating its food and beverage products to health workers in different hospitals whileRobinsons Land Corp. (RLC) is purchasing test kits for various hospitals in the NCR.

RLC will also be waiving rental charges for all non-operational tenants of its various malls for the period during which the mall is closed because of the community quarantine.

Robinsons Bank has announced that it is providing payment extension to its customers for various loan products.

The SM Group’s MyTown, a co-living space serving young professionals, now offers temporary staff housing for businesses across the metro that are impacted by the recent quarantine and curfew, and require emergency staff accommodation as part of their business continuity planning.


Business urges gov’t to grant tax holidays, relief measures

Business groups have urged government to grant tax holidays and relief measures to industries to help mitigate the economic impact brought about by this month-long lockdown in Luzon to fight the local transmission of COVID-19.

In a statement, the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) headed by Ambassador Benedicto V. Yujuico has identified 14-point recommendations to the government.

The Chamber of Commerce of the Philippine Islands president Jose Luis Yulo Jr. also urged government urged to grant tax holidays and extend deadline for tax filing of taxes until such time that lockdown in the National Capital region, according to a business group.

“Government must give tax holidays, extend the deadline for tax filing until such time that the company exits shutdown or skeleton operations,” Yulo said.

On the PCCI petition, the country’s largest business association has asked Department of Finance (DOF) through the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) to allow tax payments after April 15th and waive applicable penalties and interest charges for delayed tax remittances.

PCCI has also urged the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) to enjoin the telcos (PLDT and Globe) to remove all Data Capping in mobile Broadband Internet services, as a way to allow their customers a continuous service 24/7 until the crisis is declared over.


The group also asked the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) and the DOF to encourage banks to declare a moratorium on loan amortizations falling due within six months from the occurrence of COVID-19 for business, consumer, home and loans to large enterprises. Affected MSMEs and even corporations have to apply with their respective universal, commercial and savings banks for the moratorium to take effect.

In consideration of the present situation where businesses are experiencing losses, Mindanao businessmen asked for government to re-consider the holiday pay for workers for April 9, Holy Thursday, which is also Araw ng Kagitingan. The salary computation for the said date would total 300 percent if a business is in operation, and 200 percent if closed. They suggested 200 percent if in operation, and 100 percent if closed.

The group also asked the Department of Trade and Industry to strictly enforce price controls to keep food prices (and inflation) low, protect food supply and other basic and prime commodities, especially for the marginalized sectors, and enable trade to continue.

Vital industries like power, water, transport, telecommunications and others that provide essential services to the public must continue to operate with businesses and workers exercising the recommended protocols as prescribed by the Department of Health (DOH) and guidelines issued by the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE).

PCCI also supported the PCCI Mindanao’s petition for the Department of Agriculture (DA) to declare Mindanao to be a separate food quarantine area to allow the unhampered delivery of food for the entire country.


PH financial markets reopen

The Philippines resumed bond and foreign exchange trading on Wednesday and is poised to reopen the stock exchange on Thursday as the government agreed to exempt financial markets from the monthlong Luzon-wide lockdown.

But to comply with the prohibition against mass gather­ings as a way to combat the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, these institutions will have to follow stringent “social distancing” requirements. The Philippine Stock Exchange (PSE), for its part, will reopen without operating its physi­cal trading floor in Bonifacio Glo­bal City.

The PSE was locked down on Tuesday along with fixed-income trading platform Philippine Dealing and Exchange Corp., and the spot foreign exchange market following the government’s order to place the entire Luzon island under “enhanced community quarantine.” Only private establishments providing utilities and basic necessities as well as those related to food and medicine production, business process outsourcing and export-oriented industries were allowed to open.Financial market utilities will henceforth be exempted from the lockdown.

The Securities and Exchange Commission approved the off-site trading protocols for the PSE, which would perform start-of-day activities remotely using a virtual private network. It will continue to operate using the systems and servers in its primary site.

“It’s one of the best news for the week. The financial market is an important component of our economy. It’s still one of the best sources for capital of listed companies and funds for the investing public,” said Astro del Castillo, managing director at local fund management firm First Grade Finance Inc.

“However, expect PSEi (PSE index) to remain volatile. Investors will remain wary in investing aggressively,” he added.

So far this March alone, the PSEi already lost 1,452.54 points, or 21.4 percent. Last week was the worst seen since the global financial crisis of 2008, with P1.6 trillion worth of wealth wiped out from the local stock market, an amount equivalent to 8.5 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Governor Benjamin Diokno tweeted on Tuesday night that the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases had granted the local stock and bond trading platforms exemption from the enhanced quarantine measures “after they assured the authorities that necessary safeguards to ensure the safety of their employees and the community they interact with are in place.”

The PSE, for its part, will not operate its trading floor for the meantime, in line with the government’s prohibition against mass gatherings. About 150 floor traders typically stay at the PSE’s trading floor.

“Trading activities by all trading participants will have to be conducted remotely through off-site locations,” the PSE said.

The local bourse will follow the earlier-announced shortened trading schedule. The stock market will open at 9:30 a.m. and close at 1.p.m. during the Luzon-wide quarantine.