The Hong Kong government said it will try to start its vaccination program this month after Macau said it would start offering Covid-19 jabs to its people from Tuesday.
On Monday, Macau Chief Executive Ho Iat-seng issued an order that permanent residents in the Asian gaming city, as well as migrant workers, non-local students and prisoners, would get the jabs free. Non-locals will have to pay 250 Macanese patacas (US$31.31) per dose.
Last Saturday, the first 100,000 Sinopharm doses arrived in Macau. The Macau government said the vaccine was suitable for people between 18 and 60 while those over 60 but in good health could also get it. The government said it had purchased insurance for vaccination participants.
Medical staff, police and firefighters will get top priority for the jabs, followed by public transport drivers, food-processing workers and workers in elderly care homes.
From February 22, vaccinations will be available to all other local residents. Foreigners, migrant workers and those who are going to study or work abroad will be vaccinated later.
Lei Chin-ion, Director of the Health Bureau in Macau, said he would probably be the first government official to get the jab in Macau while more than half of his colleagues would follow suit.
Lei said the Macau government had signed to buy 1.4 million doses of vaccines from several suppliers for a total of 350 million patacas. He said the BioNTech vaccines would arrive in Macau between February and March while the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines would arrive in June.
With a population of 682,000, Macau has not recorded any local infection for 316 days. It has seen a total of 48 cases, including 46 imported ones and two local infections, early last year. No Covid patient has died in Macau while 46 patients have recovered.
On February 5, the Hong Kong government said it would exempt Sinovac from having its phase-3 clinical data published in medical journals as the mainland company said it had considerable difficulty compiling the information for publication in a short period.
On Monday, Hong Kong’s Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan said the government had not lowered its vetting requirements for the Sinovac vaccines. Chan said the government had asked Sinovac to provide its phase-3 data submitted to the World Health Organisation (WHO) for assessment. She added that the government’s advisory panel for vaccinations would look into Sinovac’s data this week.
Chan said the government would speed up its vaccination program and try to launch it this month after the first million doses of BioNTech vaccines arrive in Hong Kong in late February. The government said last week that it would start the vaccinations in March.
Most medical experts in Hong Kong said it would be safe to use the Sinovac vaccines if the phase 3 clinical data had been submitted to the WHO.
Thomas Tsang Ho-fai, a member of the government’s vaccination program task force, said if enough Sinovac vaccine data had been submitted to the WHO, it was not necessary to wait for the phase-3 data to be published in medical journals.
On Monday, all residents of flat number 4 on each floor at Wai Lee Building in Quarry Bay were ordered to evacuate after seven patients were identified in the building. Two patients are students at Shau Kei Wan Government Secondary School. About 130 students, five teachers and several cleaners at the school will be sent to a quarantine center.
The two students did not know each other and did not sit close to each other during the exams, but they might have used the same communal facilities such as a washroom, said Chuang Shuk-kwan of the Center for Health Protection.
Yuen Kwok-yung, a microbiologist of the University of Hong Kong, said after a visit to Wai Lee Building that “vertical transmission” could have happened in the light well of the building as some sewage pipes were irregularly modified. Yuen said it was a right move to send students and teachers to a quarantine center as they could have been infected at the school during an examination last week.
Yuen added that as long as the authorities were able to contain the virus, there was no reason for the government to change its plan to allow schools to resume some classes after the Lunar New Year.
Last Friday, a 18-year-old student who lived in unit 4 on the 14th floor at Wai Lee Building, tested positive. Three family members were also identified as infected. On Sunday, the government locked down the building for testing and found three more patients in two flats.
The Center for Health Protection said 32 cases, four imported and 28 local infections, were recorded on Sunday. Six cases were untraceable. These involved a clerk, a retired person, a domestic worker, a restaurant chef, a salesperson and a supervisor at a construction site at the former Kai Tak runway.
On Saturday, 24 local infections and three imported cases were reported. Six of the local cases had no known source. They involved a baker at the Alva Hotel By Royal in Shatin, an airport cleaner, a domestic worker, a retired person, a salesperson and a jobless person.
Among the local patients, a 32-year-old pregnant woman who was a close contact of a Covid-19 case had come down with the virus on Saturday. She and her family member had intentionally not told health officials they lived together.
The government said the pair could face legal consequences under prevention and control of disease laws.