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LCQ4: Patients infected with SARS


Following is a question by the Hon Chan Yuen-han and a reply by the Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food, Dr Yeoh Eng-kiong, in the Legislative Council today (June 18):

Question :

Regarding patients infected with the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome ("SARS"), will the Government inform this Council:

(a) of the number of cases in which the patients who had recovered were discriminated against and forced to take no pay leave or dismissed by their employers; how the authorities assisted them in resuming work or claiming financial compensation;

(b) whether financial assistance other than Comprehensive Social Security Assistance has been provided to SARS patients who have recovered but are not yet physically fit to resume work; if so, of the details; if not, whether it will consider establishing a fund specially for providing financial assistance to them; and

(c) regarding the health care personnel infected with SARS at work, how the authorities calculate the amount of compensation for injury at work payable to those who have recovered but have part of their bodily functions permanently damaged, and the amount of compensation payable to those who died of such infection at work; whether the authorities have provided them with compensations other than those stipulated in the legislation; and whether they will increase the insured amounts for the compensations concerned?


Madam President:

(a) As at June 13, 2003, the Labour Department has received a total of 5 claims relating to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). Of these, two involved alleged dismissal of SARS infected employees during sick leave and the isolation period. Both cases have been resolved after conciliation. The Labour Department is also following up on the other three cases involving the death of an employee because of SARS, a claim for sickness allowance by employees who were required to undergo medical checkup, and alleged dismissal of an SARS infected employee during sick leave. The Labour Department has not received any complaints from patients recovered from SARS about being forced to take no-pay leave by their employers or having their services terminated when they resumed work.

Employees' rights and benefits are governed by the Employment Ordinance (EO) and the employment contract between employers and employees. Employers cannot unilaterally alter the terms of employment of the employees. If employers wish to arrange no-pay leave for employees which have not been provided for in the employment contract, they must obtain the prior consent of the employees. If employers wish to dismiss employees, they must abide by the provisions of the EO and the employment contract, and make termination payment to the employees concerned. If an employee is forced to take no-pay leave or is dismissed because of SARS infection or other reasons, he/she may approach the Labour Relations Division of the Labour Department for assistance.

(b) The Social Welfare Department (SWD) provides financial assistance out of public funds to assist SARS patients and their families -

(a) The "Emergency Financial Assistance Scheme for Prevention of the Spread of SARS" for persons who are identified to be close contacts of SARS patients and who are put under confinement. As at June 10, 2003, 725 cases involving $ 0.6 million had been approved.

(b) Emergency financial assistance for eligible families of SARS patients in the form of cash grants for living expenses and grants to meet burial expenses. By June 10, 2003, 69 applications for cash grants for living expenses totalling $ 0.3 million and 100 applications for burial grants totalling $ 1.1 million had been approved.

SWD has also been entrusted to administer two non-Government funds, and to allocate grants to eligible persons/families -

(a) The "Business Community Relief Fund for Victims of SARS" provides short-term grants for families of discharged SARS patients and gratuity payments to families of deceased SARS patients. As at June 10, 2003, 518 applications (409 applications for short-term grants and 109 applications for gratuity payments) involving $13.9 million had been approved.

(b) The "We Care Education Fund" is a long-term education fund, to provide education and related expenses for children in Hong Kong whose parent(s) died of SARS.

Other non-governmental sources also offer financial assistance to SARS patients and their families. Examples include -

(a) The "Project Blossom" offers a maximum of a one-year educational grant to children of recovered or deceased SARS patients.

(b) "Teachers Against SARS" provides an emergency fund and education subsidy for teachers and their families as well as others from the education sector affected by SARS to meet financial hardships.

(c) "Tung Wah Group of Hospitals Anti-SARS Emergency Relief Fund" provides financial assistance to individuals and families who are inflicted by SARS to help meet their basic maintenance needs.

(d) The "Temporary Financial Assistance Scheme Against SARS" is targeted at Hong Kong residents facing difficulties arising from the crisis indirectly related to SARS, e.g. sudden unemployment or reduction in salary.

SWD and non-governmental organizations introduce these funds to eligible individuals or families and assist them in completing the application formalities.

(c) Staff of the Hospital Authority (HA) who have contracted SARS while on duty are compensated in accordance with the provisions of the Employees' Compensation Ordinance (ECO). For those who have suffered permanent total incapacity as a result of SARS infection, the amount of compensation as provided under ECO ranges from $344,000 to $2,016,000, depending on the staff's monthly earnings and age. In the case of permanent partial incapacity, the amount of compensation will be calculated by multiplying the amount of compensation for permanent total incapacity by the percentage of the loss of earning capacity caused by the disease. For staff who have contracted SARS while on duty and subsequently passed away as a result of the disease, the amount of compensation provided under ECO ranges from $303,000 to $1,764,000, depending on the deceased's age and monthly earnings.

Apart from the compensation provided for under ECO, for an HA staff member who has died of SARS contracted while on duty, HA will pay for the funeral expenses in full and provide his/her surviving family with a special relief grant of $100,000 to meet urgent needs. If the deceased is an HA employee, his/her surviving family will receive a death benefit of 12 months' basic salary or his/her accrued provident fund balance/accrued contract gratuity (for contract staff), whichever is the greater. If the deceased is a civil servant working in HA, his/her surviving family will receive a death gratuity in accordance with the provisions of the prevailing pension legislation. HA plans to set up a fund to support the education of the children of the deceased staff. HA is also considering the provision of a special recuperation grant to those staff infected with SARS while on duty.

The insurance benefits currently enjoyed by HA staff are comparable to those offered by other major employers in Hong Kong. HA is reviewing the insurance benefits of its staff in the context of a comprehensive review currently conducted on the total remuneration and benefit package of its staff.

A Scheme was set up by the Government in January 2002 to provide financial assistance to family members of those who have sacrificed their lives to save or protect others. The level of assistance for each approved application is worked out according to a formula having regard to the deceased's age, with minimum and maximum levels at $3 million and $6 million, at present. Up to May 26, 2003, the Committee set up under the Scheme supported that in recognition of the gallant acts of the 3 healthcare staff of HA who died of SARS contracted at work, their families should be offered financial assistance ($3 million in each case).

End/Wednesday, June 18, 2003


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