Hang Seng Bank yesterday offered special loans to airline workers and hotel staff forced to take unpaid leave or a cut in salary because of Sars. But its interest rate of nearly 19 per cent drew criticism. One legislator said last night that people might as well apply for a credit card as turn to the bank for assistance. The bank is offering people whose jobs have been affected by the Sars outbreak loans equivalent to up to three months of an applicant's salary, to a maximum of $75,000, at an annual interest rate of 18.94 per cent. This is below the 22 per cent the bank says it charges on personal loans but comparable with some of the less expensive credit cards in Hong Kong. Borrowers do not have to pay interest or make repayments for the first three months. Hang Seng Bank's deputy head of retail banking, William Leung Wing-cheung, said: 'We can see that some industries were particularly badly hit by Sars, and this has hurt their employees' pay. 'Since borrowers can have three years to repay their loans, it is hoped that this loan will solve their short-term financial problems.' The bank is targeting airline workers and hotel staff but says it will consider people from other sectors whose jobs have been affected by Sars. Democrat Sin Chung-kai said: 'I guess we can call it a step forward. If somebody needs to borrow this money, the alternative is to either use credit cards or borrow from loansharks - which is even more expensive.' However, The Frontier legislator Cyd Ho Sau-lan said: '18.94 per cent? You might as well apply for a credit card. 'I don't know whether this is some sort of community service, but if it is, then it falls a bit short of the mark.'