Only people who have received their first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine will be allowed to enter restaurants, gyms, cinemas, beauty salons and public recreational venues in early 2022. Hong Kong health authorities say the new rules will be rolled out before the Lunar New Year in an effort to battle the Omicron variant and encourage vaccine uptake.

Restaurant LeaveHomeSafe
A LeaveHomeSafe QR code outside a restaurant. File Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Secretary of Food and Health Sophia Chan announced the new measures at a press conference on Friday, including the expansion of the “vaccine bubble” scheme in high-risk places such as catering premises.

“We are not saying that one dose of vaccination is enough, but we also have to be practical… we want to implement this measure for all the scheduled premises under Cap. 599 as soon as possible,” Chan said.

She added that they understand people would be gathering during the holiday, therefore the government’s plan is to expand the “vaccine bubble” before Lunar New Year. “It is important for them to protect themselves as soon as possible.”

Covid-19 vaccine Sinovac elderly
Elderly people queue up for vaccination. File Photo: GovHK.

Chan said the move is to “further promote and boost” vaccination among older age groups who are more vulnerable to severe symptoms: “Especially those who are over 80 years [old], [the vaccination rate] is only 20 per cent, which is very low.”

Local Omicron cases

The city confirmed its first two local cases of the Omicron variant on Friday, as two people tested positive after dining in the same restaurant with a Cathay Pacific aircrew member confirmed to have the infection.

Director of the Department of Health Ronald Lam said during a Friday press conference that Hong Kong “could be at the tipping point of the fifth-wave of the outbreak.”

The Hospital Authority announced that the temporary field hospital at Asia World Expo will reopen on Sunday and provide 500 beds to stable Covid-19 patients.

The quarantine requirements for cargo aircrew members will also be tightened, as they will be required to undergo seven days – instead of three days – of hotel quarantine starting from Saturday.

Sophia Chan
Sophia Chan. File Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Officials urged the public to cooperate with compulsory testing, get vaccinated, minimise unnecessary travel and avoid crowded places or mask-off gatherings.

However, the authority did not call off celebration events for the 2022 countdown, including the Hong Kong New Year Countdown Concert organised by the Hong Kong Tourism Board in the West Kowloon Cultural District on Friday.

When asked about the concert, Chan said the organisers of the event must strictly follow requirements on testing, vaccination and use of the “LeaveHomeSafe” app before allowing entry.

She added that citizens should try their best to avoid crowded venues and gatherings without masks.

As of Thursday, the total number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in Hong Kong is 12,649, while the death toll stands at 213.

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Peter Lee is a reporter for HKFP. He was previously a freelance journalist at Initium, covering political and court news. He holds a Global Communication bachelor degree from CUHK.