When owners of Hong Kong bars and nightclubs met with city officials this month, they expected to know how the government was planning to get more of the largely resistant population to get vaccinated, their businesses are only authorized to open to vaccinated people.
Instead, officials turned the situation around by asking them what they were going to do to help boost one of the slowest Covid-19 vaccine intakes among cities around the world.
“They only asked us if we had any ideas or plans to increase the vaccination rate,” said Liu Wai, who represents the industry as chairman of the Hong Kong Federation and Kowloon Ballroom and Nightclub Merchants. A fifth of the nightclubs have closed within the five months of closure and the rest receive only 10% of regular income after they reopen, he said, making them desperate to see vaccination increases.
Carrie Lam’s administration increasingly relies on local businesses and institutions to help get people vaccinated, as her Beijing-backed government struggles to win over reluctant residents in an atmosphere of mistrust at the following widespread anti-China protests in 2019. Big businesses, restaurants, and even universities have started offering cash payments, extra time off, and even the chance to win a $ 1.4 million apartment.
“Government officials have not been able to find a way to engage with the community to build momentum for immunization,” said Karen Grépin, associate professor at the School of Public Health of the University of Hong Kong. “This is where they faltered. But it is also very difficult for them to lead, from a political point of view. That doesn’t mean they should give up. They should find ways. But that means working with more reliable agents.
More and more companies and institutions are taking center stage. Last week, the city’s international airport announced it would offer 60,000 plane tickets to those vaccinated before the September deadline. The Hong Kong Jockey Club, which operates racetracks and betting facilities, offered up to three days of special paid time off and additional insurance coverage for employees who get shot.
Even regulators are getting involved. The Hong Kong Monetary Authority has urged banks to give employees two days of paid vaccination leave, local newspaper Apple Daily reported on Monday. The HKMA, which declined to comment specifically on the discussions, confirmed that it had made the request to facilitate vaccinations.
Hong Kong developers, Chinese Estates Holdings Ltd. and the Sino Group’s philanthropic arm, Ng Teng Fong Charitable Foundation, are also offering a brand new Hong Kong $ 10.8 million ($ 1.4 million) apartment to residents who have been vaccinated.
Vaccine appointments hit their highest in three weeks after the apartment lottery announcement was made, with some 17,700 people reserving slots for the BioNTech SE shoot on Saturday, while another 10,500 booked slots. meeting for the Chinese manufacturer Sinovac Biotech Ltd.
Hongkong and Shanghai Hotels Ltd., which operates the city’s historic Peninsula hotel, has offered its 1,500 Hong Kong-based employees HK $ 2,000 to get vaccinated, and an additional HK $ 2,000 if he is able to. vaccinate 70% of its local workers.
Local colleges are also taking steps to encourage vaccines, with the Chinese University of Hong Kong requiring students staying in dormitories to get vaccinated, or pay for their own Covid tests every two weeks.
As many places around the world scramble for more vaccines, the Hong Kong government is in the unique position of having hundreds of thousands of unused doses of the mRNA vaccine developed by BioNTech SE and Pfizer Inc. on the verge of to expire. If the immunization rate does not increase, the city risks being left behind as other world centers resume meetings and travel.
The government has tried to make vaccines more convenient, even allowing companies to schedule immunization sessions on site. In mid-May, Deloitte announced that 170 employees had been vaccinated during one of these sessions.
According to Bloomberg’s Vaccine Tracker, only 13.4% of Hong Kong residents have been fully vaccinated despite being one of the few places in the world where Covid vaccines are available to all adults. This is well below other financial centers, including Singapore, at 28.3%, and London, at 28.6%.
Chief Lam, who has long ignored suggestions to offer residents cash or similar incentives, argued last week that her government had already done its job by purchasing enough vaccines and making them available for free.
“We hope that economic incentives can be provided by institutions or employers,” she said. “For the government, we will focus on the political aspect.”
‘I can’t survive’
But some business owners and experts say the government’s reluctance to take concrete action – such as relaxing mask warrants or quarantine requirements for travelers from 14 to 21 days – dilutes private efforts and, in some case contradicts them.
David Webb, a prominent Hong Kong investor and corporate governance activist, mocked the airport’s offer of free flights to those vaccinated on Twitter last week, noting that anyone who would earn a ticket should still shell out for quarantine. Hong Kong requires all inbound travelers to quarantine themselves at hotels, even if they have homes in the city.
“Get vaccinated, get a chance to pay for 2 or 3 weeks of hotel quarantine upon your return?” Webb wrote. “A barely convincing offer from this public company. “
These measures aimed at restoring the freedoms of vaccinated people are increasingly being undertaken around the world. The United States and South Korea have both lifted mandates for outer masks for those vaccinated, while the European Union has said it will welcome vaccinated Americans as tourists this summer without quarantine requirements.
The Hong Kong government says it cannot use such incentives due to the low rate of population protection and the risk of new variants spreading – although South Korea’s vaccination rate is currently below that of the former British colony. City officials said on Friday they would allow quarantine exemptions for a small number of senior bankers traveling on business.
“If we can’t have a vaccination rate of around 70%, I don’t think we can significantly relax travel, masking, all social distancing measures. We will be left behind, ”said Lam Ching Choi, physician and member of the Executive Board who advises Carrie Lam.
Hong Kong’s complex relationship with mainland China, which requires the city to eliminate local transmission before reopening the economically vital border, is also prompting authorities to take a conservative stance.
Like a handful of other Covid havens in the Asia-Pacific region that have reduced local cases to zero, the city risks being left behind in its attempt to prevent all infections, especially since other economies accept that Covid-19 is endemic, and move on.
These are frustrated people who say that despite being fully vaccinated, they have always been placed under too severe restrictions. For others who haven’t had their photos yet, the lack of flexibility has raised questions about why they should bother.
“You can’t survive like this when there is no business,” said Chin Chun-wing, president of the Hong Kong Bar and Club Association. “No one will get the vaccine just for a drink. “