The number of personal bankruptcies in Hong Kong will double this year to about 50,000 as a result of the Sars outbreak and the weak economy, according a professional accounting body. Last year's 25,328 bankruptcies set a record for Hong Kong. At the end of last month, the courts granted 11,662 people bankruptcy orders. . This was double the 5,810 bankruptcies recorded in the same period last year and also more than the 2001 full-year figure of 9,151. Derek Lai Kar-yan, Hong Kong counsellor for CPA Australia, blamed the soaring number of bankruptcies on a poor economy further weakened by the Sars outbreak. 'The stock and property markets have been poor since the 1998 Asian financial crisis. The Sars outbreak has further damaged the economy's prospects,' he said. 'For those who have been struggling with huge credit-card bills and personal loans, the dim outlook has led them to opt for bankruptcy.' Although Sars is now under control in Hong Kong and the World Health Organisation's travel advisory has been lifted, Mr Lai said its negative impact would linger for the rest of this year. 'Some restaurants and retailers have laid off staff while some have closed down,' he said. 'The suppliers and landlords of these companies also get hurt. 'The knock-on effects will lead to more companies closing this year and more people losing their jobs.' In the first four months of this year, 476 companies were wound up, a 9 per cent increase over the same period a year ago. Last month there were 2,710 bankruptcies, down 13 per cent from March but up 53 per cent year on year. Mr Lai said the monthly decline in April should not be seen as an improvement as bankruptcy figures always drop after March. 'We have noticed for a number of years that a lot of people declare bankruptcy in March,' he said. 'This is because people prefer not to go bankrupt in February during the Chinese New Year holiday.' Although the government has introduced an $11.8 billion rescue plan, Mr Lai noted that it applied to only four industries. He added that relief packages offered by local banks, such as HSBC and Hang Seng, are unlikely to help those indirectly hurt by the Sars outbreak. 'This will have a knock-on effect on banks, [which are] set to record higher credit-card and personal defaults this year,' Mr Lai said. 'Some people have abused the bankruptcy system by using it as a way to escape repaying their debts.' Under Hong Kong's bankruptcy law, bankrupts are banned from taking taxis, dinning in deluxe restaurants and conducting business for four years.