A Hong Kong education official has defended the government’s policy to bar unvaccinated students from extracurricular activities when schools resume in-person classes, dismissing the idea that those who have not received their jabs will be “labelled.”

Students with masks in a Hong Kong primary school. File photo: GovHK.

Speaking on an RTHK programme on Tuesday morning, Under Secretary for Education Christine Choi said that while all students – irrespective of their vaccination status – can attend normal classes when face-to-face teaching resumes between late April and early May, unvaccinated pupils will be barred from afterschool activities.

Choi said the arrangement would not lead to “labelling” or separating unvaccinated students as “all pupils are eligible to join” scheduled classes.

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She said students still had a choice. “If they are really that keen to join [the activities,] and their own health allows it, why not get vaccinated?”

Nonetheless, University of Hong Kong epidemiologist Ben Cowling told HKFP that it would be “clearly labelling” students if they were not allowed to join extra-curricular activities.

Cowling said coercing vaccinations among children should only be a “last resort” if there were a “major risk to the child if not vaccinated” and “if all other approaches have failed” to raise the vaccination rate.

The Under Secretary for Education, Choi Yuk-lin (left), visiting a community vaccination centre. File photo: GovHK.

“Even those who are vaccinated with two or three jabs can still be infected and transmit the disease,” Cowling said. He added that he nonetheless recommends people to get vaccinated as the Covid-19 jabs can greatly reduce the severity of the disease, but that it should be “[left] up to personal choice.”

Siddharth Sridhar, a clinical assistant professor at the HKU’s Department of Microbiology, told HKFP that only allowing vaccinated students to participate in extra-curricular activities should be viewed as an “incentive,” as “vaccines cannot prevent infections completely.”

On Tuesday afternoon, the Hong Kong Committee on Children’s Rights issued a statement urging authorities to ensure equal education opportunities among school children. “Education is a child’s most fundamental right and should not be used as an exchanged condition for vaccinations in any way,” it wrote.

“Separating school children encourages discrimination and harms children physically and mentally, and disregards their best well-being,” the committee stated.

As of Tuesday, Hong Kong has reported 1,193,023 Covid-19 cases and 8,886 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

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Peter Lee

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.