CORONAVIRUS/Service sector hurting more in latest COVID outbreak than in 2021: chamber

05/18/2022 08:14 PM
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A food court in Taipei in early 2022. CNA file photo
A food court in Taipei in early 2022. CNA file photo

Taipei, May 18 (CNA) The growing outbreak of COVID-19 in Taiwan has dealt a heavier blow to the country's service industry than last summer, when strict disease controls were introduced during the first surge in cases, a chamber of commerce said Wednesday.

Although the current outbreak has not yet peaked, sales in the service sector's food and beverage, tourism, lodging, and retail industries have dropped more than 50 percent on average in May from March, the General Chamber of Commerce of the Republic of China (ROCCOC) said.

"Sales performance in the domestic market has already fallen by half, even before the tsunami hits," ROCCOC Chairman Hsu Shu-po (許舒博) said.

The service sector is having a worse time than last year because the current COVID-19 outbreak is bigger and there are no government bailout programs, he said.

Moreover, rising inflation has exacerbated the situation, Hsu said, urging the government to take action to ease the pressure on local businesses.

According to data released Monday by the Ministry of Labor (MOL), the number of workers on unpaid leave in Taiwan had increased by more than 600 over the past week to more than 15,000 -- the highest in the past six weeks.

The ministry said the number of furloughed workers had climbed in the past week primarily because several employers in the lodging, and food and beverage industries had been severely affected by the growing COVID-19 outbreak.

Hsu said that amid those problems, service providers are frustrated at the government's rapidly changing disease control policies, which have caused disputes between businesses and their customers, and also between management and workers.

The figures do not include imported cases reclassified as domestic ones, nor retroactively removed cases. As of May 18, Taiwan recorded 954,411 domestic cases in 2022, while the total number of imported cases rose to 12,345 from 2,396 on Jan. 1.
The figures do not include imported cases reclassified as domestic ones, nor retroactively removed cases. As of May 18, Taiwan recorded 954,411 domestic cases in 2022, while the total number of imported cases rose to 12,345 from 2,396 on Jan. 1.

In late April, travel agencies were forced to cancel many domestic group tours when the government abruptly started mandating three COVID-19 vaccine shots for people taking such trips, he said.

Since the vaccine mandate was introduced for domestic tours, sales in the tourism industry have plummeted more than 90 percent, Hsu said, calling on the government to allow enough time for local industries to adjust to its policies.

Furthermore, instead of offering marketing subsidies, the government should present plans for immediate bailout so local businesses can at least survive, he said.

"What the businesses need is a lifeline," Hsu said.

On May 16, the economics ministry launched a program that offers subsidies of up to 50 percent of the marketing budget of food and beverage businesses, until June 15, with a limit of NT$100,000 (US$3,367) per service provider.

Facing criticism that the program is weak and ineffective, the ministry said Wednesday that it had already received some 3,000 applications in the two days since it launched the initiative to boost consumption.

Now that Taiwan has decided to "coexist" with COVID-19, the ministry said, the government's goal is to help local businesses "build strength" through marketing instead of relying on bailout subsidies, as before.

(By Tseng Chi-yi and Lee Hsin-Yin)

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