Hong Kong’s Covid-19 Vaccine Pass scheme is still “necessary,” the city’s health secretary has said, in response to a call from medical experts to relax requirements for under 60s.

In an opinion piece published in Ming Pao on Friday, Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan said that making exemptions for any group would be unfair to residents who have already been vaccinated.

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

Chan was responding to an opinion piece written by University of Hong Kong (HKU) epidemiologist Ben Cowling and Theo Chan from the HKU Department of Pharmacology and Pharmacy, which was published in Ming Pao on Monday.

“I hope to make a few points in response, and explain that under the premise of having ‘dynamic zero Covid’ as an aim, the ‘Vaccine Pass’ is still a necessary measure in preventing and controlling the pandemic situation,” Chan wrote.

Cowling and Theo Chan wrote in the piece that because the risk of getting severe Covid was much lower for those under 60, whether they had received two or three doses of a Covid-19 vaccine was unlikely to have much of an impact on the city’s public health care system.

The pair also said that the Vaccine Pass policy “seriously limits personal freedom, and by nature has superseded the principle of ‘informed consent’.”

Covid-19 online recovery record
Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

“If the government had, from the beginning, followed the viewpoint of the article, and considered the implementation of the ‘Vaccine Pass’ based on the benefits offered to different groups, it is not hard to imagine that some individuals would continue to hold a wait-and-see attitude, and hope that other people would be vaccinated first to raise the overall vaccination rate,” Chan wrote in her response.

“Some people in the medical sector have suggested that individual age groups should be able to choose whether to receive the third dose of vaccine, or have labelled the ‘Vaccine Pass’ as coercive. I worry that it will only lower people’s intent to get vaccinated, and reignite vaccine hesitancy, it’s not appropriate,” Chan wrote.

Currently 6,678,518 people who were eligible, or 91.7 per cent, have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine; 6,217,747 people, or 86.2 per cent, have received two doses; and 3,530,134 people, or 52.1 per cent, have received three doses.

Hong Kong has reported 1,209,688 Covid-19 infections and 9,366 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic over two years ago.

Mask-wearing to continue

Hong Kong could cancel the Vaccine Pass requirement if the city’s vaccination rate reaches 95 per cent, wrote HKU experts Yuen Kwok-yung, Siddharth Sridhar and David Christopher Lung, in an opinion piece published in Ming Pao on Friday.

However, mask-wearing would need to continue until spring next year, they said.

yuen kwok yung speaks reporters
Top microbiologist Yuen Kwok-yung speaks to reporters on January 12, 2021. Screenshot via RTHK

“If there are no mutant strains that are stronger than Omicron, and we survive the peaks of the winter flu season in 2022 and 2023, then the mask-wearing requirement can be relaxed,” the op-ed read.

The trio also made some policy suggestions, including reducing the quarantine period for incoming travellers to five days, and allowing home quarantine for arrivals.

Yung, Lung and Sridhar also suggested that the government should continue contact tracing for group outbreaks to keep transmission at an acceptably low level while allowing enough time for everyone to be vaccinated.

They also suggested that the government stop announcing the number of new daily infections, and only publish the number of people with severe symptoms, the number of cases who have been hospitalised, and the number of deaths.

“The two and a half year epidemic has already made all Hongkongers extremely pandemic fatigued. The thing that residents look forward to the most is returning to normality.”

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Candice Chau

Candice is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously worked as a researcher at a local think tank. She has a BSocSc in Politics and International Relations from the University of Manchester and a MSc in International Political Economy from London School of Economics.