Welfare groups have urged the government to scrap plans to make patients show a vaccine pass or negative PCR test result at specialist clinics and designated health centres, saying the new rules will effectively prevent some chronically-ill or disabled patients from seeking treatment.
Under the new rules starting Monday, visitors without three shots of Covid vaccine can instead show a negative result from a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test result taken within the previous 48 hours. But an NGO for disabled people said this would not be an easy option for some.
“For people with severe disability, going out and about is difficult enough. Not every place offering PCR tests is convenient and accessible,” said Rabi Yim, the chairperson of Direction Association for the Handicapped, on Thursday.
Yim, who is herself wheelchair-bound, said on an RTHK programme that travelling to test centres would require booking a specially equipped rehabilitation bus. Yim said the effort that would be needed to get a PCR test would be as great as going for a medical check-up.
Trouble over testing
“It is equally complicated,” Yim said, “and the patients may miss their check-up appointment if they cannot get the test report in time.” She said some unvaccinated patients have opted to skip regular check-ups as a result.
Yim suggested authorities allow patients to replace a PCR test with a rapid antigen test done on the day of the appointment.
The government has announced that a vaccine pass will be needed at 13 healthcare premises starting June 13. These include specialist out-patient clinics under the Hospital Authority, women’s health centres, government dental and orthodontic clinics and district health centres.
Rights to access medical services
Lam Chi-yau, who heads a group called Hong Kong Patients’ Voices, described the requirement for a vaccine pass at healthcare centres as “harsh.” He said on a Commercial Radio programme on Thursday that people have various reasons for not getting a vaccine, adding they have alternatives if they cannot enter restaurants, bars or cinemas.
But it was ridiculous that people could not access medical services because of their vaccination status, he added.
Food and health secretary Sophia Chan stressed the importance of adopting a “dynamic zero infection” policy at a Legislative Council meeting on Wednesday, when asked about the government’s plans in case of a sixth wave of the pandemic. She urged the public to get vaccinated to build “a protective barrier in the community.”
Hong Kong has recorded 1,216,743 Covid infections and 9,389 deaths since the pandemic began. The vast majority of deaths occurred among unvaccinated older people when the Omicron wave struck earlier this year.