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Hong Kong to ease covid restrictions for vaccinated people


Hong Kong plans to ease social-distancing rules for those vaccinated against the coronavirus to incentivize more people to get inoculated so the city can further reopen for business.

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Now that Hong Kong's outbreak is "obviously contained," the government will consider "vaccine bubbles" that allow vaccinated people greater freedom of movement, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said at a briefing Monday. If more people get vaccinated, restaurants could extend dine-in hours to 2 a.m. and as many as eight people would be able to sit at a table, up from four now, she said. Bars and nightclubs could reopen on a limited basis if all staff and customers are vaccinated and use the government's contact tracing app.

"I hereby encourage all citizens to get vaccinated and support our new direction in fighting the pandemic to protect ourselves and family members," Lam said. "Hong Kong's vaccination rate can be improved further. In other words, it's not ideal, especially considering that we have very sufficient supply and convenient infrastructure."

Hong Kong had administered about 834,800 vaccine doses in total to the public as of Sunday. About 7.7% of the population have received at least one dose.

For now, social-distancing measures will be extended for another two weeks to April 28 as authorities monitor the virus situation following the Easter holiday.

"If suddenly Hong Kong faces a major surge as a result of the Easter holiday, then we may need to revisit and refine these measures," Lam said. Otherwise, the new measures could be introduced if preparatory work and discussions with stakeholders can be completed within the two-week period.

Hong Kong's vaccine drive has been hampered by public distrust of the Beijing-backed government and the Chinese-made Sinovac Biotech Ltd. vaccine. It suffered another blow last month when packaging defects were found on a batch of shots developed by BioNTech SE and Pfizer Inc. -- the other vaccine available in the city -- that led to a temporary halt in those vaccinations.

About 348,600 people have received a first dose of the Sinovac vaccine and 230,300 have had the BioNTech vaccine, the government said Sunday. Sinovac accounts for roughly 146,700 second doses, and BioNTech about 109,200. Hong Kong has a population of 7.5 million.

The government said it may also cut quarantine time for people arriving from areas deemed to be low risk and ease access for more visitors from mainland China. Such moves are key to reopening the city and boosting an economy that's been starved of big-spending tourists. Hong Kong had about 97% fewer visitor arrivals in February than in the same month last year.

Hong Kong last month cut mandatory hotel quarantine to 14 days from 21 for people coming from low-risk areas including Singapore, Australia and New Zealand. Visitors from mainland China, Macao and Taiwan also currently face 14 days compulsory quarantine. Only a limited quota of Hong Kong citizens arriving from Macao and the southern Chinese province of Guangdong have been exempt from quarantine.

Published : April 13, 2021

By : Syndication Washington Post, Bloomberg · Felix Tam, Jinshan Hong