Hong Kong will offer Covid-19 booster injections to the general public next month to combat the worldwide spread of the Omicron strain, Chief Executive Carrie Lam has said, after initially restricting them to higher-risk groups.
Health authorities and experts are discussing specific arrangements, she told a press conference on Tuesday.
Currently, only those who received two shots of the less effective Chinese-made Sinovac are eligible for a booster, along with those who received two BioNTech jabs and who belong to higher-risk groups.
Imported Omicron cases
Hong Kong has so far recorded seven cases of the Omicron variant. All of them are imported cases in which patients tested positive upon arrival at the airport, or during quarantine. They had flown from the US, Nigeria, South Africa and the UK.
“Experts have not fully grasped Omicron’s characteristics, but are concerned that it can spread quickly,” Lam said.
She added that there are no signs of community infections in Hong Kong but authorities “cannot let down their guard.”
In an interview with RTHK on Monday, respiratory disease expert Professor David Hui said Hongkongers should not wait for a new generation of vaccines targeting Covid-19 mutations, urging people to get jabbed as soon as possible.
Around 68 per cent of Hong Kong’s population is fully vaccinated against Covid-19. The city has recorded 12,491 infections as of Monday with 213 deaths.
Lam also referred to the expanded use of the Leave Home Safe contact tracing app – now compulsory at restaurants, gyms and other entertainment venues – as “rather smooth.”
‘Enhanced’ quarantine measures
Travelers from 13 countries, including the US, now face “enhanced” surveillance measures meant to prevent the spread of the Omicron variant to the community.
Arrivals flying in from those countries – or who stayed there in the last 21 days – must first spend one week quarantining at the government facility in Penny’s Bay before completing the remaining 14 days in a hotel.
Sources told local media that the UK would also be added to the list of countries after two imported Omicron cases from the UK were reported on Monday.
Hong Kong Health Code registrations
Registration for the Hong Kong Health Code system, intended to restart quarantine-free travel with mainland China, opened last Friday. Over 440,000 people have signed up, the Chief Executive said.
The mobile application is part of the government’s efforts to reintegrate with the mainland and is targeted at businesspeople and those with family members across the border. Mainland China widely employs a similar health code system that determines where people can and cannot go, depending on their risk level assigned by the app.
Like the health code system in the mainland, Hong Kong’s system will designate a “green,” “red” or “yellow” QR code depending on where the users have been. Those living in a neighbourhood with a positive case, and who are then given a “yellow” code, will reportedly need to wait weeks before the status clears.
Some health code users will be able to begin quarantine-free travel to the mainland later this month after the December 19 Legislative Council elections, according to reports.