Hong Kong to widen Covid-19 vaccination plan to masses as pandemic worsens

Around 190,000 people have received their first vaccination dose. PHOTO: REUTERS

HONG KONG - Officials are extending the city's vaccination programme to more in the community including foreign domestic workers and students, in hopes of achieving herd immunity as fears of a worsening pandemic hang over their heads.

From Tuesday (Mar 16), maids working in the city and students who are 16 and older studying outside of Hong Kong can make an appointment online to receive the Covid-19 vaccination shots.

The programme, which had previously focused on those aged 60 and older and those working in priority areas, has also been expanded to include people who are 30 years old and older.

With the move, about 5.5 million people, or 70 per cent of the population aged 16 and older, will be able to get inoculated against Covid-19.

The government is also ramping up its ability to administer the jabs with 12 more centres roped in to offer the Pfizer-BioNTech jabs from Tuesday, said Secretary for Civil Service and minister in-charge of the city's vaccination plan Patrick Nip.

He announced at a Monday briefing that with the boost, there will be in all eight centres administering Sinovac jabs and 19 centres offering the Pfizer-BioNTech shots. In addition, there are about 2,000 private clinics offering Sinovac jabs.

So far, 190,000 people have had their first dose of the vaccines since the start of the programme on Feb 26, said Professor Sophia Chan, who is Secretary for Food and Health Bureau.

In urging people to sign up, she said: "With more people getting vaccinated in Hong Kong, the faster we will be able to get herd immunity."

This, in turn, will help businesses and Hong Kong's recessionary economy get back on track quicker, Prof Chan said.

Officials in the city are struggling to get more people to sign up for the voluntary and free jabs amid concerns over adverse reactions and reported deaths.

Hong Kong has to date recorded seven deaths after people were given the Sinovac vaccine.

The expert panel reviewing the cases said there is no direct link between the vaccine and the incidents.

The other cases of adverse reactions remain under investigation.

The city is currently on alert as officials and experts warn of the possibility of a fifth wave following a surge in cases in recent days.

Hong Kong on Monday recorded 30 new cases. Of the 16 local cases, 13 are linked to the latest gym cluster. This brings the total tally since the pandemic hit last year, to more than 11,300 cases and 203 deaths.

At the centre of the latest outbreak is Ursus Fitness, a Sai Ying Pun gym where the cluster has grown to more than 120 cases, with over 700 close contacts under quarantine. Most of the cases had emerged after Mar 8.

The gym is popular with expatriates, particularly lawyers, bankers and hedge fund managers.

Dozens of offices and residential premises, including law firms and banks, were issued compulsory testing notices as the virus made its way across the expat community. Some international schools were also shut as a result.

Over the weekend, authorities moved to lock down parts of the Central and Western districts popular with expats, to ensure people were tested.

Among those tested during lockdowns, two United States consulate staff were found to be Covid-19 positive.

Officials at a health briefing later in the day said the two staff have been admitted to hospital isolation wards and all consulate staff will be tested, on top of contact tracing.

In a statement issued on its website, the US consulate said: "We have closed the Consulate General to perform a deep disinfection and cleaning, while appropriate contact tracing is completed."

The Hong Kong government said in a statement late Monday that all staff from the US consulate were required to undergo Covid-19 testing.

All visitors to the premises from March 2 to 15 are also required to take nucleic acid tests, the statement said.

The surge in cases comes about a month after measures were eased. Some businesses such as beauty and massage parlours, gyms, theme parks, museums, performance arts venues, cinemas and other leisure venues were allowed to reopen on Feb 18 after being forced to shut for over two months.

Dine-in services were also extended for four hours to 10pm and patrons per table doubled to four. These were contingent on staff getting tested every fortnight.

On Feb 24, public group gatherings were doubled to four.

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