When Hong Kong bar and nightclub owners met with city officials this month, they hoped to hear how the government planned to convince more of the largely resilient population to get vaccinated, as their businesses could only be opened to people. inoculated.
Instead, officials changed tables and asked them what they would do to help drive one of the slowest catches of Covid-19 vaccines among the world’s cities.
“They just asked us if we have ideas or plans to increase the vaccination rate,” said Liu Wai, who represents the industry as president of the Hong Kong Federation and Kowloon Ballroom and Nightclub Merchants. One-fifth of nightclubs have closed in the five months of closure and the rest only get 10% of their usual income after reopening, he said, and despaired of seeing vaccination increase.
The Carrie Lam administration is increasingly relying on local businesses and institutions to help vaccinate people, while its Beijing-backed government struggles to convince reluctant residents in an atmosphere of mistrust following widespread protests against China in 2019. Major companies, restaurants and even universities have begun offering cash payments, extra free time, even the chance to earn a $ 1.4 million apartment.
“Government officials have not been able to find a way to connect with the community to drive vaccination,” said Karen Grépin, an associate professor at the University of Hong Kong’s School of Public Health. “It simply came to our notice then. But it is also very difficult for them to address it, from a political perspective. It doesn’t mean they have to give up. They have to find ways. But it means working through more trusted agents. ”
There are more companies and institutions in the foreground. Last week, the city’s international airport announced it would give away 60,000 flight tickets to people vaccinated before the September deadline. The Hong Kong Jockey Club, which runs racetracks and betting facilities, has offered up to three days of paid special leave and additional insurance coverage for employees who receive their opportunities.
Even regulators are involved. The Hong Kong Monetary Authority urged banks to give their employees two days of paid vaccination leave, local newspaper Apple Daily reported on Monday. The HKMA, which declined to make specific comments on the talks, confirmed that it made the request to facilitate vaccinations.
Developers of Hong Kong Chinese Estates Holdings Ltd. and Sino Group’s philanthropic arm, Ng Teng Fong Charitable Foundation, are also delivering a new Australian $ 10.8 million ($ 1.4 million) apartment to vaccinated residents.
Vaccine appointments peaked in three weeks after the apartment lottery announcement, with some 17,700 people booking seats for the BioNTech SE shooting on Saturday, while another 10,500 booked appointments for the Chinese manufacturer Sinovac Biotech Ltd.
Hong Kong and Shanghai Hotels Ltd., which runs the city’s historic Peninsula Hotel, have offered their 1,500 Hong Kong-based employees $ 2,000 to be inoculated and an additional $ 2,000 if they can vaccinate 70% of their local workers.
Local colleges are also taking steps to encourage gunfire, as the Chinese University of Hong Kong requires students who stay in dormitories to be vaccinated or pay for their own Covid tests every two weeks.
As many places in the world are looking 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. If the vaccination rate does not increase, the city runs the risk of falling behind while some other global centers resume meetings and travel.
The government has tried to make vaccines more comfortable, even allowing companies to schedule on-site vaccination sessions. In mid-May, Deloitte announced the inoculation of 170 employees in one of these sessions.
Only 13.4% of Hong Kong residents have been 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. This is well below other financial centers, such as Singapore, with 28.3%, and London, with 28.6%.
Leader Lam, who has long rejected suggestions for offering residents cash or similar incentives, argued last week that her government had already done its job by buying enough vaccines and making them available.
“We hope that institutions or entrepreneurs can provide financial incentives,” he said. “For the government, we will focus on the political part.”
“I can’t survive”
But some businessmen and experts argue that the government’s reluctance to take concrete action, such as relaxing mask mandates or quarantine requirements for 14- to 21-day travelers, dilutes private efforts and in some cases contradicts them.
David Webb, a prominent Hong Kong investor and corporate governance activist, mocked the offer of free airport flights for vaccinated people on Twitter last week, noting that anyone who won a ticket he would still have to pay the quarantine. Hong Kong requires all incoming travelers to be quarantined in hotels, even if they have homes in the city.
“Vaccinate yourself, do you get a chance to pay for two or three weeks of hotel quarantine when you return?” Webb wrote. “It’s hardly a compelling offer from this state-owned company.”
These moves to restore the freedoms of vaccinated people are taking place around the world. Both the United States and South Korea have lifted mandates for foreign masks for vaccinated people, 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 these incentives due to the low rate of population protection and the risk of spreading new variants, although South Korea’s vaccination rate is currently lower than the ‘former British colony. On Friday, city officials said they would allow quarantine exemptions for a small number of high-level bankers traveling on business.
“If we can’t have a vaccination rate of about 70%, I don’t think we can relax substantially when traveling, masking ourselves, in all measures of social distancing. We will be left behind, ”said Lam Ching Choi, a doctor and member of the Executive Board who advises Carrie Lam.
Hong Kong’s complex relationship with mainland China, which wants the city to erase local transmission before reopening the economically vital border, is also driving officials ’conservative stance.
Like a handful of other covid paradises in the Asia-Pacific region that have reduced local cases to zero, the city runs the risk of falling behind in its bid to prevent all infections, especially because other economies they accept that covid-19 is endemic and move on.
These are frustrated people who claim that, despite being completely inoculated, they have been subjected to excessively harsh restrictions. For others who have not yet achieved their features, the lack of relaxation has raised doubts about why they should be bothered.
“You can’t survive like this when there is no business,” said Chin Chun-wing, president of the Hong Kong Bars and Clubs Association. “No one will be vaccinated just for a drink.”