Refugee claimants and mainland two-way permit travellers will be given access to Covid-19 vaccines in Hong Kong, the government has announced.

The new measure will allow around 40,000 mainland residents who are in the city – for a variety of reasons from tourism to family reunions and job training – to receive their jabs at local vaccination centres from Friday, while over 13,000 refugees and asylum-seekers will be eligible to do so in July.

Pfizer BioNTech Covid-19 coronavirus vaccine
A Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine. File photo: IMF Photo/Ernesto Benavides, via Flickr.

“From a public health perspective, providing vaccination to them will not only protect them from infection, but also prevent the spread of the virus in the community and thus enhance Hong Kong’s overall anti-epidemic capability,” a government spokesman said in a statement on Tuesday.

hong kong refugees asylum protest
File Photo: Danny Sierra.

Mainland visitors can book their vaccination appointments at post offices by presenting their landing slips or extension of stay labels issued by the Immigration Department. They may receive their jabs at any of the city’s 29 community vaccination centres as long as they could receive both vaccine doses within their limit of stay.

Refugee claimants, however, may have to wait until July. The authorities are “preparing to provide” the vaccine to these individuals, the statement said, without indicating a specific date.

“The Government is currently conducting a survey through the International Social Service Hong Kong Branch to assess their intention for receiving vaccination,” the spokesperson said. They may be able to get vaccinated at four to six designated centres, where interpretation services will be available.

Non-profit human rights organisations have for weeks called upon the government to give refugees in the city access to the vaccines, as many of them live in crowded, shared spaces amid a slow take-up rate for jabs among the city’s general population.

refugee asylum
A refugee dwelling in the New Territories. File photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

As of Monday, about 1.2 million people – or 19 per cent of the city’s population – received their first vaccine dose, while about 907,000 – 13.8 percent – received both doses.

“Granting the refugee and asylum-seeking community access to vaccination is a welcome development in including forced migrants into Hong Kong’s public health response,” a Justice Centre spokesperson told HKFP. The non-profit organisation provides support to asylum seekers in the city.

The authorities will not allow visitors to extend their stay in the city on the grounds of receiving their vaccination, the government spokesperson said. They are also considering whether to allow other visitors remaining in Hong Kong due to the pandemic to get vaccinated in the city.

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Selina Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist who previously worked with HK01, Quartz and AFP Beijing. She also covered the Umbrella Movement for AP and reported for a newspaper in France. Selina has studied investigative reporting at the Columbia Journalism School.