HONG KONG - Mounting pressure on people's livelihoods and the city's economy have prompted Hong Kong officials to lay out a plan that ties vaccination to the easing of social distancing measures in order to get the city back on track.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam, together with her ministers, outlined at a Monday (April 12) briefing the ways in which measures could be relaxed in phases from as early as April 29 for businesses including eateries, bars and pubs.
"We are making use of vaccination as the basis for adjusting social distancing measures, as well as border control measures," she said.
"We are not adopting a herd immunity concept for adjusting the relaxation measures. We are just targeting individuals or a group of individuals."
In the food and beverage (F&B) sector, up to 12 patrons a table may be allowed if the staff and customers are fully vaccinated, which means they have had two doses of the vaccines as required and waited 14 days for antibodies to develop.
Dine-in services at these places may be extended to 2am from the current 10pm.
Where staff are fully vaccinated, an area could be carved out in the eatery for patrons who have had their first dose of the vaccine.
Each table at such places can sit up to eight patrons, with dine-in services extended to 2am. The number is "massively increased" to 100 people for banquets under the same conditions.
For eateries where staff have taken only the first jab, each table can sit up to six patrons instead of the current four, with dine-in services to end at midnight. However, the operating capacity will remain at 50 per cent, while banquets will stay capped at 20 people.
For venues including bars, pubs, mahjong parlours and party rooms, which have been forced to shut for four months, Mrs Lam said "details will be discussed with the trade" on how they can resume operations, depending on the scale of vaccination.
The government will also make an exception and provide these businesses an additional tranche of subsidies under the Anti-Epidemic Fund, with details to be announced later, she added.
Mandatory quarantine for visitors from low-risk areas such as Singapore, Australia and New Zealand was on April 9 shortened to 14 days with an additional seven-day self-monitoring period. But this could be shortened further to a seven-day quarantine in total or lower for those from low-risk countries who are fully vaccinated.
Those coming to Hong Kong from medium-risk cities may have their mandatory quarantine lowered to 14 days from the current 21 days.
Cross-boundary drivers who are fully vaccinated will not need to undergo daily testing, under an agreement with Guangdong province.
Hong Kong residents who are now in Chinese provinces and cities other than Guangdong and Macau, as well as some mainlanders, may also enter the city without being quarantined starting late this month, officials announced, adding that details will be made known later.
Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan on Monday shared Hong Kong's plan to "stop infections at source" for airlines.
She said if airlines from the same destination carry a certain number of confirmed cases within a seven-day period, and if a new variant strain is confirmed, then flights from these places will be banned from Hong Kong for 14 days.
Officials added that visitations to eldercare homes will be allowed again if family members are fully vaccinated and take the rapid antigen tests for Covid-19. Those who cannot be vaccinated will have to produce a negative result from a nucleic test in place of the inoculation requirement.
As at Sunday night, more than 830,000 doses of the Sinovac and Pfizer-BioNTech jabs have been administered since the voluntary vaccination drive began at the end of February. The inoculation programme is now open to everyone aged 30 and above.
"We would like to see the vaccination rate go up, that means at the moment it's not satisfactory, especially as we consider that we do have a sufficient supply of vaccines," said Mrs Lam.
She noted that the government has been able to suppress the outbreaks in the fourth wave of the pandemic, adding that in the past three days, there has not been any untraceable infections in the city.
Hong Kong recorded 13 new Covid-19 cases on Monday, of which two are local infections and 11 are imported.
This brings the total to more than 11,500 cases and 207 deaths since the pandemic started.
Existing measures - including mask-wearing, public gatherings capped at four and dine-in services till 10pm - will be extended for another two weeks to April 28. They were due to expire on April 14.
The extension is needed is to allow officials to monitor the situation after the long Easter break in Hong Kong, when there were more social activities.
Meanwhile, talks to resume the Singapore-Hong Kong travel bubble are under way. The city had earlier proposed that passengers on these direct flights be fully vaccinated.
Correction note: An earlier version of this article said that the mandatory quarantine for fully vaccinated visitors from low-risk areas such as Singapore, Australia and New Zealand was shortened to 14 days on April 9. This has been corrected. We are sorry for the error.