Five groups of people in Hong Kong, including medical staff and elderly people, will get top priority for the free Covid-19 vaccines from February 26.
The groups also include residents and employees at elderly and disabled care homes, cleaners and members of the disciplinary forces and post office workers, and cross-border workers such as truck drivers and flight crews. They amount to about 2.4 million people, about a third of the population.
A maximum of two people accompanying a person aged 70 or above can also get the jabs. However, vaccinations might not be suitable for people aged over 85, those with poor health conditions, allergies or fevers, pregnant women and breast feeders, Health Director Constance Chan Hon-yee said on Thursday.
The first batch of one million doses of the China-made Sinovac vaccines would arrive on Friday evening while another million BioNTech doses would arrive next week, said Patrick Nip, Secretary for the Civil Service. The vaccines could be used by a million people as each person would get two doses.
People could book online for vaccinations from February 23 and be vaccinated in one of five sport centers in Kowloon Bay, Tin Shui Wai, Kwun Chung, Causeway Bay and Shatin, and out-patient clinics in different districts from next Friday, Nip said. The BioNTech vaccines would be ready for use in 24 vaccination centers in early March.
After the injection, people would be recommended to stay in the vaccination centers for half an hour, in case of an allergic reaction. Vaccinations would be available later in more than 2,000 private clinics.
Thw Social Welfare Department would send outreach teams to initially inoculate those who lived or worked at 10 elderly care homes and gradually extend the services to other care homes, Nip said.
Medical experts would determine whether any mandatory testing, quarantine and social distancing rules could be relaxed for the vaccinated people in future, he added.
Currently, workers at construction sites, restaurants and elderly and disabled care homes are required to take the Covid-19 test biweekly. Flight and sea crews are required to be isolated in hotels for 14 days after arrival. People travelling to Hong Kong from overseas should be quarantined in hotels for 21 days while Hong Kong people can return to the city without being quarantined if they have negative test certificates.
On Thursday, Health Secretary Sophia Chan authorized the Sinovac vaccine for emergency use in Hong Kong, following a recommendation by the government’s advisory panel on vaccinations on Tuesday.
Chan said the government had ordered 22.5 million doses of Covid vaccines from three suppliers for HK$5 billion (US$645 million) and spent another HK$460 million to speed up the search for an effective vaccine through the World Health Organization COVAX scheme. She said the administrative costs for the coming vaccination programs in Hong Kong would be about HK$2.9 billion.
The government was also seeking HK$1 billion in funding from the Legislative Council to set up an indemnity fund for anyone experiencing serious complications from Covid-19 jabs, Chan said.
People who suffer serious side effects such as facial or muscle paralysis could receive up to HK$3 million while families could get up to HK$2.5 million in fatal cases, she said.
Chan said victims who received the compensations could still take legal action against the manufacturer of the vaccine, or other parties deemed accountable.
She called on the public to get the jabs to help the city achieve herd immunity as early as possible.
Although polls showed only 40% of Hong Kong people would get the jabs, respiratory medicine specialist Leung Chi-chiu said Thursday he believed their attitude would change over time if the program was rolled out successfully.
“As time goes, there will be further data not only from abroad but also from the local application,” Leung said. “That should relieve the anxiety of people who might be worried about the vaccine’s safety profile.”
Chief Executive Carrie Lam and key officials will be inoculated with the Sinovac vaccines next week in a bid to increase public confidence in vaccinations.
The Center for Health Protection said eight local infections were recorded on Wednesday. Three of the cases had no known origin. They involved two housewives and a worker at an elderly care home in Kwun Tong. About 50 residents and 30 staff members of the care home have been sent to quarantine.
From Thursday, the government relaxed anti-epidemic rules for restaurants and allowed cinemas, gyms and beauty parlors to reopen. David Hui Shu-cheong, chairman of the Department of Medicine and Therapeutics at The Chinese University of Hong Kong, said the relaxations might be risky but he understood that the government had to rescue the job markets.
Hong Kong’s unemployment rose to 7% between November 2020 and January 2021, the highest in 17 years, up from 6.6% between October and December 2020, according to the Census and Statistics Department. For the period, the number of unemployed people increased from 245,800 to 253,300 while the number of underemployed people rose from 133,800 to 148,200.
Both the unemployment rate and underemployment rate increased across almost all major economic sectors, with more distinct increases in the retail, accommodation and food services; education; and arts, entertainment and recreation.