Hong Kong should keep zero-Covid strategy until more people are vaccinated, government advisor says

Hong Kong should keep zero-Covid strategy until more people are vaccinated, government advisor says

Hong Kong needs to stick to its zero-Covid strategy until more people are vaccinated, a government advisor told CNBC on Wednesday.

“If 95% of our eligible population are being vaccinated fully with three doses, then the chance is that we are able to open our border,” said Yuen Kwok-yung, who is part of Hong Kong’s expert advisory panel for Covid-19.

The Chinese city is far from reaching that target. Only 68.6% of the total population has received two doses of a vaccine as of Wednesday, according to government data. Some 322,781 people, or around 4.4% of the population, have received their third shot.

One way to increase vaccination rates would be to require a vaccine passport to go about daily life, said Yuen, who is also head of the department of microbiology at the University of Hong Kong.

“Perhaps that is [the] only way, like Israel, to ensure that a high vaccination rate will be achieved,” he said. Fully vaccinated people in Israel are issued a “green pass” that allows them to enter indoor venues such as restaurants, gyms and cinemas.

As of Tuesday, 62.96% of Israel’s population has received two doses of the vaccine, according to Our World in Data. While that rate is lower than Hong Kong’s, nearly 45% of Israel’s population has received a booster. Authorities in Israel require booster shots six months after the second dose. Those who do not take their third shot lose their fully vaccinated status.

Zero-Covid strategy

For now, Hong Kong cannot switch strategies, Yuen told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Asia.”

“At this stage in time, it’s the same. We must continue with our present near-zero policy,” he said.

Hong Kong requires people entering the city to quarantine for up to 21 days and take multiple Covid-19 tests, measures Yuen said are necessary to control the source of infections.

But the city’s zero-Covid approach is also the main frustration for foreign businesses operating there, an analyst told CNBC on Tuesday.

Yuen said, however, the city doesn’t intend to keep zero-Covid in place indefinitely, just until it reaches “sufficient” vaccination rates.

“It’s impossible to maintain it for more than three years,” he added. “I think that for the coming years, the government has to set a deadline when everybody have to have a vaccine pass … to go around.”

Vaccination is required for some activities in Hong Kong, but the limits on unvaccinated people are much more relaxed than in places such as Israel and Singapore.

Hong Kong has reported 12,548 confirmed Covid cases since the beginning of the pandemic, including 34 cases of the omicron variant, according to government data as of Wednesday.

— CNBC’s Weizhen Tan contributed to this report.

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