The Hong Kong government should mandate vaccination against Covid-19 in schools and workplaces, a local leading microbiologist has said. He also called on the authorities to change its “defensive” anti-epidemic strategies to build up the city’s “resilience” in preparation for border reopening in the future.
In an article published in Ming Pao on Tuesday, Professor Yuen Kwok-yung and two other health experts from the University of Hong Kong (HKU) said the city should strive to achieve a vaccination rate of 99 per cent in order to be fully prepared for lifting its border restrictions with other countries and regions.
Experts Yuen, David Lung and Ivan Hung said Hong Kong had been adopting “defensive” measures against Covid-19, including compulsory mask-wearing in public areas and imposing strict border control and quarantine measures on inbound travellers. But these policies would not be “lasting,” they said, as Hongkongers showed “fatigue” after fighting the pandemic for two years.
“There must be a fall after such a long defence. Therefore it is necessary to build anti-epidemic resilience with vaccinations at full speed, to prepare for reopening up Hong Kong,” the article read.
The experts said the current “zero Covid” strategies in Hong Kong were only “transitional,” and it would be difficult for the city to maintain its state of being infection-free without affecting the city’s status as an international financial hub, its businesses, tourism and the mental health of its people.
They said the a more “aggressive” strategy was needed to boost the vaccination rate, which stood at 68.9 per cent on Tuesday with more than 4.64 million Hongkongers having received two doses of Covid-19 vaccine. Meanwhile, 356,079 people have taken their third jab.
The scholars opined that the Hong Kong authorities may consider introducing a “vaccine passport” scheme, which they saw as being widely accepted and easily implemented. Such a policy could protect the unvaccinated and allow those who have received their jabs to resume their normal life as soon as possible, they added.
As of Monday, Hong Kong has registered a total of 12,598 Covid-19 infections, while the death toll remained at 213. Among the 101 cases reported in the last two weeks, one was an import-related infection while the rest were imported cases.
The city has reported 58 Covid-19 infections involving the highly-mutated Omicron variant so far.
Aim for next March
Speaking on Commercial Radio on Tuesday, Yuen said rolling out the vaccine passport scheme was the only way to allow Hong Kong to reopen its borders with other countries. He said if the government bars people from going to school and work if they are unvaccinated, it would definitely help increase the vaccination rate.
“If we have the vaccine passport, for instance, you cannot go to school or to work [without vaccination]… I don’t think anyone would have any medical reason not to use the vaccine,” he said.
The HKU microbiologist, who is also an advisor for the government on tackling Covid-19, said he already submitted his recommendation to authorities. He said the government should aim to launch the scheme in March next year and strive to require Hongkongers to receive three Covid-19 jabs by May in order to resume quarantine-free travel with low-risk areas in July.
“If we need to reopen our borders, we have seize the window in July. Even if Omicron cases enter Hong Kong, there is no problem, because everyone is vaccinated,” he said.
But mandating vaccination in Hong Kong through legislation “may not be the best way,” Yuen remarked, saying the vaccine passport scheme may be more suitable for Hong Kong’s political situation.
He cited the pandemic policies in Singapore and Israel and said the health authorities in Hong Kong must brace themselves for a “post-vaccine wave” of infections.
“When Singapore or Israel opened their borders, a lot of people passed away immediately, most of whom were unvaccinated,” he said.
“Singapore… told people to get vaccinated. [They] opened their borders even though some people refused to get vaccinated. If you choose not to get vaccinated, then I’m sorry, it’s natural selection and you have to pass away.”