When Hong Kong bar and nightclub owners meet with city officials this month, they expect to hear how the government plans to beat the increasingly resistant population to get vaccinated, with their businesses allowed. to open inoculated persons.
Officials, however, moved the tables – they were asked what they would do to help raise one of the slowest Covid -19 vaccine receptions among cities in the world.
“We were just asked if we had any ideas or plans to improve the vaccination rate,” said Liu Wai, who represents the industry as chairman of the Federation of Hong Kong and Kowloon Ballroom and Nightclub Merchants. A fifth of nightclubs closed after five months of closure and the remaining 10% of regular revenue after reopening also, he said, caused them to be desperate to see an increase in vaccinations.
Carrie Lam’s administration has relied heavily on local businesses and institutions to help vaccinate people, while her Beijing -backed government has struggled to convince reluctant residents of a state of mistrust following the widespread anti-China protests in 2019. Leading companies, restaurants, and even colleges have already started offering cash payouts, more rest, even the chance to win a $ 1.4 million apartment.
“Government officials have not found a way to engage the community to provide impetus for vaccination,” said Karen Grépin, an associate professor at the University of Hong Kong’s School of Public Health. “There they slowed down. But it is also difficult for them to lead it, from a political standpoint. It doesn’t mean they have to stop. They have to find ways. But it does mean working through more reliable agents. ”
Many businesses and institutions will come forward. Last week, the city’s international airport announced it would provide 60,000 flight tickets to people who have been vaccinated before the September deadline. The Hong Kong Jockey Club, which operates racecourses and betting facilities, is offering up to three paid special departure days and additional insurance coverage for employees hired.
Even regulators are involved. The Hong Kong Monetary Authority has urged banks to provide two -day paid vaccinations to their employees, local newspaper Apple Daily reported on Monday. The HKMA, which declined to comment specifically on the talks, confirmed that the request had been made to expedite vaccinations.
Hong Kong developer Chinese Estates Holdings Ltd. and philanthropic arm Sino Group Ng Teng Fong Charitable Foundation also donated a new HK $ 10.8 million ($ 1.4 million) apartment to vaccinated residents.
Vaccination appointments rose to their highest in three weeks after the apartment lottery was announced, with 17,700 people booking slots for the BioNTech SE shoot on Saturday, while 10,500 also reserved appointments. for Chinese manufacturer Sinovac Biotech Ltd.
Hong Kong and Shanghai Hotels Ltd., which operate the city’s historic Peninsula Hotel, are offering 1,500 Hong Kong-based employees HK $ 2,000 to be inoculated, and an additional HK $ 2,000 if vaccinated. to 70% of local workers.
Local colleges are also taking steps to encourage the shot, with the Chinese University in Hong Kong requiring students to stay in dormitories to be vaccinated, or pay for their own Covid tests every two weeks.
Like many places around the world fighting for multiple vaccines, the Hong Kong government is in a unique position with hundreds of thousands of unused doses of mRNA vaccine manufactured by BioNTech SE and Pfizer Inc. . which is set to end. If the vaccination rate does not rise, there is a risk of leaving the city as other global hubs continue to hold meetings and travel.
The government is trying to make vaccinations easier, even allowing businesses to schedule vaccination sessions on site. In mid-May, Deloitte announced that 170 employees had been inoculated in one session.
Only 13.4% of Hong Kong residents are fully inoculated despite being one of the few places in the world where Covid shots are available to all adults, according to Bloomberg’s Vaccine Tracker. Very far behind other financial centers including Singapore, at 28.3%, and London, at 28.6%.
Leader Lam, who has long squandered proposals to offer residents cash or similar incentives, argued last week that his government had already done its job by buying enough vaccines and making them free. available.
“We hope that economic incentives can be provided by institutions or employers,” he said. “For the government, we will focus on the policy side.”
But some business owners and experts argue that the government’s refusal to take concrete measures – such as relaxing mask orders or travel quarantine requirements of 14 to 21 days – has been exaggerated. the private effort, and in some cases it was opposed.
David Webb, a prominent Hong Kong investor and corporate governance activist, scoffed at the airport’s offer of free travel for the vaccinated on Twitter last week, noting that anyone who wins a ticket still need to be released from quarantine. Hong Kong requires all travelers to be quarantined in hotels, even if there are houses in the city.
“Get vaccinated, get a chance to pay for 2 or 3 weeks of hotel quarantine on your return?” Webb wrote. “Almost an attractive offer from this state -owned company.”
These measures to restore freedoms for vaccinated people are increasingly being taken around the world. The U.S. and South Korea have both lifted outer mask mandates for the vaccinated, while the European Union has said they will accept vaccinated Americans as tourists this summer without the need for quarantine.
The Hong Kong government has said it will not be able to use such incentives because of the short population protection rate, and the risk of the spread of new varieties – even if South Korea’s vaccination rate is now lower than former British colony. On Friday, town officials said they would allow quarantine exemptions on a small number of senior bankers traveling for business.
If we don’t have a vaccination rate of about 70%, I don’t think we can rest on a lot of traveling, of masking, of all the steps of social isolation. We will stay, ”said Lam Ching Choi, a medical doctor and Executive Council member who advised Carrie Lam.
Hong Kong’s complex relationship with mainland China, which wants the city to eliminate local shipping before it reopens the border that is economically important, has also driven the conservative stance of officials.
Like some other Covid outlets in the Asia-Pacific region that bring local cases down to zero, the city’s risks of being left behind in an effort to prevent all infections, are especially accepted in other economies. that Covid-19 is endemic, will continue.
It angers those people who say that even when completely inoculated, they are still subject to overly harsh restrictions. For others who have yet to get their shots, the lack of relief raises questions as to why they should bother.
“You can’t live like this if there is zero business,” said Chin Chun-wing, chairman of the Hong Kong Bar and Club Association. “No vaccine just to drink.”