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Hong Kong won’t open up before Covid-19 vaccine rate hits a minimum of 80%

HONG KONG

Hong Kong won’t consider shifting its zero-tolerance strategy to at least one of “living with the virus” until the vaccination rate is 80 to 90 percent, and its fate remains tied to China’s pandemic approach as lifting border curbs with the mainland remains the city’s priority, said a top adviser to the govt.

“Covid-zero isn’t a long-term policy, we will attempt to boost the vaccination to the maximum amount as we will during this policy,” said Dr. David Hui, a professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong who leads an expert panel that advises the govt.

“When we’ve about 80 percent or maybe 90 percent of vaccination rate, we may consider living with the virus rather than maintaining the zero target,” he said Thursday.

The city remains far away from that milestone, with just 58 percent of residents having been vaccinated with an initial dose, consistent with Bloomberg’s Vaccine Tracker. That lags rival financial hubs, with a figure of 82 percent in Singapore.

China, meanwhile, has fully vaccinated 70 percent of its population but has doubled down on its zero-tolerance approach and has no plans to open up to the surface world.

With Hong Kong’s priority being the border with the mainland, the town will still be led by Beijing’s strategy albeit its vaccination performance improves, noted Dr. Hui.

“Hong Kong is during a dilemma now: international chambers are putting pressure on the govt thanks to the quarantine policy while China remains aiming for zero infections,” he said.

“If Hong Kong doesn’t follow China’s policy, it’s 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 towards treating the virus is endemic.

The city’s quarantine measures, which mandate isolation periods for as long as 21 days, remain a number of the strictest within the world and are fuelling concerns that the financial hub might be left behind as others reopen.

Meanwhile, its vaccine effort is hitting a wall, with bookings falling to a record low on Sunday. an outsized swathe of the population is refusing to urge inoculation, especially the elderly: Only 13 percent of individuals aged 80 and above have received a minimum of one dose.

Dr. Hui said that opening the border with the mainland, crucial to Hong Kong’s economy, isn’t up to the town. Beijing has not given “definite instruction”, he said, “but we’ve to take care of no local cases for a consecutive period with a high vaccination rate”.

Hong Kong has reported just two unlinked local cases within the past three months. Neither led to further transmission, making it one among the foremost Covid-free places within the world.

Yet the continued isolation is hurting its reputation as a financial hub where global businesses gather. Dr Hui said that it remains to be seen if abandoning the zero-tolerance approach is possible even when inoculation is widespread.

Even Singapore is now “under pressure” though its vaccination rate is over 80 percent and therefore the rate is high among the elderly, he said.

Singapore is now seeing daily infections approach the four-figure mark because it slowly reopens. “So, this direction could also be a bold experiment like gambling for now,” said Dr Hui.

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