Hong Kong Covid-19 vaccine bookings double on hopes curbs will ease

The increase suggests the latest attempt to incentivise people to get vaccinated is having an early impact. PHOTO: REUTERS

HONG KONG (BLOOMBERG) - Bookings for coronavirus vaccinations jumped in Hong Kong as the government said it could ease social-distancing rules for inoculated people in a bid to encourage more of the population to sign up for shots.

About 13,500 people made online reservations for Pfizer-BioNTech vaccinations at community centre and another 3,300 booked for the Sinovac Biotech shot in the 24 hours to 8pm on Monday (April 12), the government said in a statement.

The bookings, which include first and second doses, were about double the number from the previous day and do not include private clinics.

The increase suggests the latest attempt to incentivise people to get vaccinated is having an early impact.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam said on Monday that "vaccine bubbles" might be considered and restrictions on places such as restaurants and bars loosened if more people are inoculated.

For now, social-distancing measures that limit restaurant dine-in hours and numbers and have shuttered bars will remain in place to April 28.

Hong Kong's approach would expand benefits for vaccinated people while persisting with restrictions for those who have not been inoculated.

Restaurants, for example, can set aside "clean zones" where vaccinated customers can gather in greater numbers than the maximum of four currently allowed.

"For customers who want to go into this area and enjoy eight-person tables, then they have to be vaccinated, and the staff serving this area, this delineated area, have all to be vaccinated," Mrs Lam said.

In Israel, which has led the charge in returning life to close to normal, a so-called green pass is issued to those who have completed their vaccine course or recovered from infection. The pass allows access to venues such as gyms, hotels and swimming pools.

Britain has begun easing its lockdown after Prime Minister Boris Johnson set out a three-month target for fully lifting restrictions.

"I don't think our so-called incentives plan is complicated," Mrs Lam said at another briefing on Tuesday morning, adding that strategies must be tailored to local needs.

"What we need now is to promote vaccination in Hong Kong," she said. "The government has to come up with stronger incentives which are important, not only for promoting vaccination, but also to allow Hong Kong to go back to normality in a gradual and orderly manner."

While pandemic hot spots like the United States and Britain are rapidly inoculating people, many Asia-Pacific governments are facing a hesitant public following reports of side effects and deaths. Only about 8 per cent of the population in Hong Kong has come forward for a shot, compared with 37 per cent of London residents who have received their first dose, 33 per cent in New York City and 20 per cent in Singapore, Bloomberg's Covid-19 Vaccine Tracker shows.

Hong Kong's vaccination drive received another blow last month, when packaging defects were found on Pfizer-BioNTech shots, leading to a temporary halt in those vaccinations.

About 877,900 vaccine doses in total had been administered to the Hong Kong public as at Monday.

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