A harsher set of social distancing measures may apply to Hongkongers who have not been vaccinated should the city see a fifth wave of infections, Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan announced on Monday.
Chan’s comments came as the government launched a new campaign to drive a higher vaccination rate within the next three months, before the government’s community vaccination centres are set to cease operations.
People who have not been vaccinated may be banned from venues considered “high risk,” including cinemas, museums and sports venues, as well as face a longer compulsory quarantine period if they are found to be a close contact of an infected person.
Chan urged Hongkongers to be vaccinated to “prepare themselves for the next wave of the pandemic.”
“For those who are still adopting a wait and see attitude, we encourage them to be vaccinated as soon as possible,” the secretary said.
At least 70 per cent of the population needed to be vaccinated in order to achieve effective herd immunity, the health official added.
‘Vaccine vacation days’
Under Monday’s new campaign to boost vaccine uptake, Hong Kong’s civil servants will be granted one extra paid vacation day after each vaccination dose. Secretary for the Civil Service Patrick Nip said the government was taking a lead as an employer to motivate its staff to be vaccinated.
“I’m sure that this new initiative of granting one day of vaccination leave… per dose will be helpful to government employees,” he said. “It will facilitate them and enable them to get sufficient rest to recover from vaccination should there be any side effects.”
Officials called on the city’s employers to implement similar initiatives to drive vaccine uptake among their employees, in a bid to boost the city’s vaccination rate and achieve herd immunity by September, in time for the new academic year.
The government’s incentive scheme will run from Tuesday until the end of August, while civil servants who have already received vaccinations will be entitled to apply for up to two “vaccination vacation days” before the end of March 2022.
Non-vaccinated front-line civil servants will need to undergo compulsory testing every 14 days if they are not fully vaccinated under the new measures.
The government also urged private businesses to join its campaign to implement reward schemes for vaccinated people.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam said she has sent letters to over 100 businesses on Monday, including real estate developers, shopping centres and theme parks, calling on their support to implement incentives for Hongkongers to be vaccinated.
She added that a hotline and help desk has been set up at the Home Affairs Department to help businesses looking to launch a raffle or lottery to apply for a proper licence.
Last Friday, a group of property developers launched a lucky-draw for an apartment worth over HK$10 million to all vaccinated adults.
Hong Kong’s vaccination drive has seen a slow uptake since it began in late February, despite enough vaccines being acquired to vaccinate the city’s population.
Around 2.36 million doses had been administered as of Monday, with 1.36 million receiving their first dose and around 1 million receiving their second. The number accounts for around 21 per cent of the population eligible for a jab, which is available to all HongKongers over the age of 16.
Nip called on Hongkongers to receive their first jabs by August, before the city’s 29 community vaccination centres cease operations in September.
“This is the golden opportunity for us. Before the fifth wave arrives, we need to have early vaccination for all,” the secretary said.
The city’s fourth wave of infections has officially subsided, with no locally-transmitted cases with an unknown origin reported for 37 straight days.
Authorities described the upcoming three months as “crucial” in the fight against the spread of the pandemic.