Hong Kong’s Covid-19 vaccine passport program is still “necessary,” the city’s health minister said in response to a call from medical experts to relax requirements for under-60s.
In an opinion piece published in Ming Pao on Friday, Minister of Food and Health Sophia Chan said it would be unfair to residents who have already been vaccinated to make exceptions for any group.
Chan was responding to an opinion piece by epidemiologist Ben Cowling of the University of Hong Kong (HKU) and Theo Chan of HKU’s Department of Pharmacology and Pharmacy, published in Ming Pao on Monday.
“I hope to respond with a few points and explain that the ‘Vaccine Pass’ is still a necessary measure to prevent and control the pandemic situation under the premise of aiming for ‘Dynamic Zero Covid’,” Chan wrote .
Cowling and Theo Chan wrote in the article that because the risk of contracting severe Covid is much lower for those under the age of 60, it is unlikely to have much impact on the city’s public whether they are two or would have received three doses of a Covid-19 vaccine
The couple also said that the immunization record policy “seriously limits personal freedom and has inherently superseded the principle of ‘informed consent'”.
“If the government had followed the article’s position from the start and considered introducing the ‘vaccination card’ based on the benefits offered to different groups, it is not difficult to imagine that some individuals would continue to hold one and wait and hope that other people get vaccinated first to increase the overall immunization rate,” Chan wrote in her response.
“Some people in the medical sector have suggested that individual age groups should be able to choose whether to receive the third dose of vaccine, or have called the ‘vaccination card’ a coercive measure. I’m concerned that it will only reduce people’s intention to get vaccinated and reignite vaccine reluctance, it’s not appropriate,” Chan wrote.
Currently, 6,678,518 eligible people, or 91.7 percent, have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine; 6,217,747 people or 86.2 percent received two doses; and 3,530,134 people, or 52.1 percent, received three doses.
Hong Kong has reported 1,209,688 Covid-19 infections and 9,366 deaths since the pandemic began over two years ago.
Mask wearing continues
Hong Kong could lift the vaccination card requirement if the city’s immunization rate reaches 95 percent, HKU experts Yuen Kwok-yung, Siddharth Sridhar and David Christopher Lung wrote in an opinion piece published in Ming Pao on Friday.
However, mask-wearing must continue until spring next year, they said.
“If there are no mutant strains stronger than Omicron and we survive the peaks of the 2022 and 2023 winter flu season, the mask requirement can be relaxed,” the comment reads.
The trio also made some policy proposals, including shortening the quarantine period for arriving travelers to five days and allowing home quarantine for arrivals.
Yung, Lung and Sridhar also suggested that the government should continue contact tracing for group outbreaks to keep transmission at acceptably low levels while allowing enough time for everyone to be vaccinated.
They also suggested that the government stop disclosing the number of new infections each day and only publish the number of people with severe symptoms, the number of cases hospitalized and the number of deaths.
“The two-and-a-half-year epidemic has already made all Hong Kongers extremely pandemic-weary. Local residents are looking forward to the return to normality the most.”