Coronavirus: Asia

HK dangles days off for civil servants to boost vaccination rate

Authorities struggling to convince residents who distrust Beijing-backed government to take jabs

HONG KONG • Hong Kong will offer civil servants who get vaccinated against Covid-19 a day off for each dose, the government said yesterday, as the authorities struggle to boost a sluggish inoculation rate among the city's 7.5 million population.

Secretary for the Civil Service Patrick Nip, speaking at a press conference, also said the government was in talks with financial institutions, tertiary schools and theme parks to set up inoculation centres for staff to ramp up the vaccination rate.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said at the briefing she had already sent letters to more than 100 firms urging them to follow in the footsteps of the government's measures.

"From now until the end of August is a crucial time for pandemic prevention," Mrs Lam said. "We're kicking off the 'Early Vaccination for All' campaign today to boost the vaccination rate, in order to achieve herd immunity."

Health Secretary Sophia Chan joined her colleagues' calls for people to get vaccinated, warning that if another wave of coronavirus sweeps the territory, those who have not been inoculated could face more restrictions.

More than 2.3 million Covid-19 vaccine doses have been administered in Hong Kong, with the lacklustre rate resulting in a surplus of doses that are due to expire as soon as August.

Roughly 21 per cent of the population aged 16 and above has had at least one dose, Mrs Lam said.

Her administration is increasingly leaning on struggling local businesses and institutions to help get people vaccinated, even as her Beijing-backed government struggles to convince reluctant residents in an atmosphere of mistrust following widespread anti-China protests in 2019.

Major companies, restaurants and even colleges have started offering cash payouts and extra time off.

"Government officials haven't been able to find a way of engaging with the community to build momentum for vaccination," said Associate Professor Karen Grepin from the University of Hong Kong's School of Public Health.

"That's where they've faltered. But it's also really challenging for them to lead on it, from a political perspective. It doesn't mean they should give up. They should find ways. But it means working through more trusted agents."

More businesses and institutions are coming to the fore. Last week, the city's international airport announced it would give away 60,000 flight tickets to people who got vaccinated before a September deadline.

The Hong Kong Jockey Club, which runs racecourses and betting facilities, has offered up to three paid special leave days and additional insurance coverage for employees who get their shots.

Hong Kong developers Chinese Estates Holdings and Sino Group's philanthropic arm Ng Teng Fong Charitable Foundation are also giving out a brand-new HK$10.8 million (S$1.85 million) apartment to residents who have been vaccinated.

Hongkong and Shanghai Hotels, which runs the city's historic Peninsula Hotel, has offered its 1,500 Hong Kong-based employees HK$2,000 to get inoculated, and an additional HK$2,000 if it is able to vaccinate 70 per cent of its local workers.

The government has also relaxed some coronavirus rules for vaccinated people in a bid to encourage inoculations as worries over adverse reactions and a lack of confidence in the Chinese-made Sinovac vaccine hamper the vaccination rate.

Hong Kong offers both Sinovac and Germany's BioNTech vaccines and residents can choose.

The global financial hub has kept Covid-19 transmission largely under control, recording more than 11,800 cases and 210 deaths, much lower than many other developed cities.

While life in Hong Kong has largely returned to normal with schools reopened and restaurants and shopping malls full, the government still limits gatherings outside to no more than four people.

Critics of the rules say they are aimed at preventing a repeat of anti-government street protests that rocked the former British colony in 2019.

REUTERS, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 01, 2021, with the headline 'HK dangles days off for civil servants to boost vaccination rate'. Subscribe