HK extends vaccination target as its leader stands firm on tough arrival rules

Hong Kong has largely kept the coronavirus at bay but its vaccination rates trail Singapore's despite ample supplies.
Hong Kong has largely kept the coronavirus at bay but its vaccination rates trail Singapore's despite ample supplies.PHOTO: REUTERS

HONG KONG -  The city has extended to next month the target for 70 per cent of the population to be vaccinated, after achieving only 60 per cent as of Monday (Aug 30).

Announcing this on Tuesday, Chief Executive Carrie Lam also insisted that measures against overseas arrivals would remain despite criticism from the business community.

Mrs Lam acknowledged that the new vaccination target set for end September might still be an uphill task given that the government would need to administer the first dose to 22,000 individuals daily.

“In the past eight or 10 days, sometimes the daily vaccination rate is lower than 20,000 and there aren’t many people who have made an appointment,” she said, pointing out that “the goal for any place is to achieve 100 per cent vaccination”.

The new goal of 100 per cent was floated by the Civil Service Secretary Patrick Nip over the weekend in a TV interview, in which he did not rule out banning unvaccinated people from some premises in the future.

In Hong Kong, 91 per cent of civil servants have received the first dose along with 93 per cent of staff in the Hospital Authority and 90 per cent of school staff. 

Mrs Lam said the government will push to get three groups of people vaccinated. They were  the working population under the age of 65, students aged 12 to 19 and seniors.

She disclosed that about half of those aged 12 to 19 have had at least one dose so far,   only 30 per cent of those above the age of 70 had similarly been vaccinated and the figure was lower for those aged 80 and above.

“Those who stay in residential care homes for the elderly is under 10 per cent”, Mrs Lam said.

She clarified that there were no plans currently for authorities to ban unvaccinated individuals from entering selected premises. But this could change in the event of a resurgence in cases.

Touching on the stringent arrival requirements for overseas arrivals that have drawn flak from the business community, Mrs Lam said that there was a need for “vigorous arrangements to guard against imported cases”, especially with more infectious strains of the virus. 

The utmost priority for Hong Kong is to control the pandemic situation, said Mrs Lam, who added that the most important defence for the city is to prevent imported cases.

She noted that many companies use Hong Kong as the gateway to the mainland and they have told her repeatedly that they want to enter the mainland to talk to investors and consumers.

“If that is our joint priority, then we should support and embrace border control measures as far as overseas arrivals are concerned because the more you relax on overseas arrivals, the less you will have a chance to go into the mainland.”

She accepted the fact that international businessmen wanted to travel but said access to the mainland market was key.

“They want to travel to the mainland, they want to travel back to their home countries and all over the world,” she said. “But the most important advantage of Hong Kong is being the gateway into mainland China because that’s a huge market.”

The comments came following publication of a rare open letter by the European Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong to Mrs Lam earlier in August, in which it cautioned that the reputation of the financial hub was at risk and residents “indefinitely trapped”.

Hong Kong has adopted a zero infection approach since late last year, a strategy that is in line with the mainland which nonetheless  has held on to tough travel restrictions, even with the territory. 

Local media reported this week that mainland authorities will only relax border controls until after the 2022 Winter Olympics.

Hong Kong has so far recorded just over 12,100 confirmed cases and 212 deaths - among the lowest in the world. Almost all cases in recent weeks were imported. It had zero infections in July and only a few local cases in August.