Hong Kong gears up to vaccinate more people as Covid-19 situation fluctuates

About 2.4 million people of the 7.5 million population are given priority access to the vaccines via online booking. PHOTO: AFP

HONG KONG - Hong Kong is gearing up to inoculate a few hundred thousand more residents in the priority groups in the next month, as the pandemic situation continues to fluctuate and officials worry about a Covid-19 rebound.

The city on Friday (Feb 26) rolled out its free and voluntary vaccination programme, with people lining up at five vaccination centres for Sinovac jabs.

This comes a week after the Chinese vaccine arrived in Hong Kong following an initial delay.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines, meant to arrive on Thursday but were delayed due to export controls, are slated to reach Hong Kong on Saturday.

The government said some 70,000 people have made appointments online, taking up all available slots for the next two weeks since applications opened on Tuesday.

About 2.4 million people - including healthcare workers and elderly aged 60 and above - of the 7.5 million population are given priority access to the vaccines via online booking.

On Friday, Civil Service Secretary Patrick Nip, who helms the vaccination roll-out, said the online booking system will reopen on Monday at 9am.

He said three more community centres will be added to the existing list of five so that more people can get the jabs and these centres will begin vaccination on March 6.

Addressing criticisms that some of the elderly find it hard to book an appointment online, Mr Nip urged them to get help from the post office or the office of the public housing estate where they live.

Officials previously announced that there will be 29 community vaccination centres islandwide, and 1,200 private doctors from 1,500 clinics have been roped. The jabs will also be available at the 18 general clinics run by the Hospital Authority.

Speaking to the media during an inspection of the vaccination programme, Mr Nip added that private doctors will receive the vaccines on Monday or so and jabs can be given from the following day at the earliest.

Director of Health Constance Chan, who received the jab on Friday, appealed to healthcare staff to get vaccinated early.

The appeal comes as the city's pandemic situation remains volatile despite daily infections having come down from triple digits.

Health officials on Friday said the territory recorded 24 new infections, of which 18 are local and one with unknown source. This brings the tally to over 10,900 cases and 198 deaths since the pandemic started.

Another 20 patients have been found to be positive in preliminary tests, of which 11 are from a ballooning cluster in a Tsim Sha Tsui mall, K11 Musea.

So far, 19 confirmed cases have been linked to the outbreak at the restaurant, Mr Ming's Chinese Dining, that is located in the mall.

With sources of up to 40 per cent of local infections in Hong Kong unknown, officials said any untraceable case will have their close contacts in the past seven days prior to onset of symptoms, put under quarantine for 14 days.

And if these close contacts show symptoms, their household members will also have to be put under quarantine for three days.

The new North Lantau Hospital Hong Kong Infection Control Centre on Friday opened one ward with 48 isolation beds - out of a total of 816 in the centre - to admit Covid-19 patients aged 16 to 65 with mild or moderate conditions. It was part of government efforts to ease the burden of the public hospitals.

The cap on public gatherings was doubled to four from Wednesday (Feb 24) until March 3 - the most recent easing of restrictions.

Some businesses such as beauty and massage parlours, gyms, theme parks, museums and cinemas reopened on Feb 18, after staying shut for more than two months.

Dine-in services have also been extended for another four hours to 10pm daily and the number of patrons allowed at each table doubled to four. The easing was contingent on all staff getting tested every 14 days and patrons using the LeaveHomeSafe tracing app or having their personal information recorded.

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