Hong Kong Won’t Open Up Before Vaccination Hits at Least 80%
(Bloomberg) -- Hong Kong won’t consider shifting its zero-tolerance Covid-19 strategy to one of “living with the virus” until the vaccination rate is 80% to 90%, with its fate tied to how China approaches reopening, said a top virus adviser to the government.
“Covid Zero is not a long-term policy, we can try to boost the vaccination as much as we can during this policy,” said David Hui, a professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong who leads an expert committee that advises the government.
“When we have about 80% or even 90% of vaccination rate, we may consider living with the virus instead of maintaining the zero target,” he said in an interview with Bloomberg News on Thursday. Even then, Hong Kong will still be led by China’s strategy, he said, adding that the 80-90% target rate would preferably be of the entire population and not just those eligible for vaccination.
The city is still far from that vaccination milestone, with just 58% of residents having been vaccinated with an initial dose, according to Bloomberg’s Vaccine Tracker. That lags rival financial hubs, with Singapore at 82%.
China, meanwhile, has fully vaccinated 70% of its population but has doubled down on its zero-tolerance approach and has no plans to open up further to the outside world. With Hong Kong’s priority being easing curbs at the border with the mainland, the city will continue to be led by what China does, even if its vaccination performance improves, noted Hui.
“Hong Kong is in a dilemma now: international chambers have been putting pressure on the government due to the quarantine policy while China is still aiming for zero infections,” he said. “If Hong Kong doesn’t follow China’s policy, it is impossible to reopen the border with them.”
Hong Kong’s travel curbs are coming under growing criticism as other places that previously kept infections low through similar rules, like Singapore and Australia, pivot toward treating the virus as endemic. The city’s quarantine measures, which mandate isolation periods for as long as 21 days, remain some of the strictest in the world and are fueling concerns that the financial hub could be left behind as others reopen.
Meanwhile, its vaccine effort is hitting a wall, with bookings falling to a record low on Sunday. A large swathe of the population is refusing to get inoculated, especially the elderly: Only 13% of people aged 80 and above have received at least a dose.
Hui said that opening the border with the mainland, crucial to Hong Kong’s economy, is not up to the city. Beijing has not given “definite instruction,” he said, “but we have to maintain no local cases for a consecutive period with a high vaccination rate.”
Hong Kong has reported just two unlinked local cases in the past three months. Neither led to further transmission, making it one of the most Covid-free places in the world. Yet the continued isolation is hurting its reputation as a financial hub where global businesses gather.
Hui said that it remains to be seen if abandoning the zero-tolerance approach is feasible even when inoculation is widespread.
Even Singapore is now “under pressure” though its vaccination rate is over 80% and the rate is high among elderly, said Hui. Singapore is now seeing daily infections approach the four-figure mark as it slowly reopens.
“So, this direction may be a bold experiment like gambling for now,” said Hui.
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