Hong Kong residents can win an apartment in Grand Central by getting jabs. Photo: Google Maps

Prizes including a one-bedroom luxury apartment, HK$5 million (US$644,385) worth of shopping vouchers and 79 ounces of gold could be enough to help people overcome their hesitation and get Covid-19 shots and boost the vaccination rate in Hong Kong.

Over the past two days, property developers and charity foundations have offered prizes worth a total of HK$120 million (US$15.4 million) to encourage people in the territory to get vaccinated.

In mid-May, the number of people who made vaccination bookings stayed at about 12,000 per day. The number of people who were vaccinated was about 25,000 people per day, only 50% of the maximum capacity.

Many said they had adopted a wait-and-see approach as they were worried about the possible side-effects of the vaccines.

Prior to this, the government launched a “vaccine bubble” scheme to boost vaccination rates but the incentives, such as the right to sit with more people at one table in restaurants and enter entertainment venues, were not attractive enough.

On May 25, the government said it would consider donating unused vaccines to countries in need through the World Health Organisation as hundreds of thousands of the BioNTech doses would expire by August.

On the same day, it extended its vaccination program to cover mainland residents who are holders of the Exit-entry Permit for Travelling to and from Hong Kong and Macau, as well as non-refoulment claimants and refugees.

On May 28, Sino Group and the Ng Teng Fong Charitable Foundation announced a lucky draw, which motivated more people to book for inoculations.

The Grand Prize, only for permanent residents who have received two doses by September 1, is a one-bedroom residential apartment at Grand Central in Kwun Tong, worth HK$10.8 million. There are also 20 prizes of a pre-paid card or credit card with a value of HK$100,000 each for both permanent and non-permanent residents, including foreign domestic workers.

On May 31, the government announced an offer of a day off work on vaccination leave for each vaccination dose for employees in the public sector. It also started an “Early Vaccination for All” campaign, calling on the private sector to launch reward programs.

Henderson Land Development said Monday it would give away 2,765 ounces of gold to fully-vaccinated people in six rounds of lucky draws between June and September. The top prize is 79.4 ounces of gold, worth US$150,000, while second prize is 39.7 ounces of gold.

Sun Hung Kai Properties has offered an iPhone 12 with a 5G 100GB monthly plan and 10 staycation packages at its hotels on a daily basis in July and August. CK Group and the Li Ka Shing Foundation will give HK$20 million in vouchers to 36 people who have completed their vaccinations by August 31.

First prize is a HK$5 million voucher that can be used to buy a home. New World Development will give HK$1,000 in cash or as a health consultation allowance to each eligible individual starting from the end of June.

Some insurers, shopping malls and private companies also launched reward plans to help boost Hong Kong’s vaccination rate.

Since the promotions started, more people have booked to get vaccinations. On June 8, the number of people who booked for vaccinations increased to 34,600, almost three times the level in mid-May.

As of Tuesday, about 2.72 million doses of vaccines had been administered in Hong Kong. About 1.58 million people, or 24.1% of the eligible population, received their first dose, while about 1.13 million people, or 17.3% of the eligible population, have had their second dose.

Sze Lai-Shan, a community organizer at the Society for Community Organization, said a HK$1,000 health consultation allowance offered by New World Development would help those who were unsure if they were suitable to get a vaccination. Sze said she recommended people seek medical advice before getting the jabs, instead of being blindly lured by prizes.

Alex Lam Chi-yau, chairman of Hong Kong Patients’ Voices, said it was not common for people in a well-developed city like Hong Kong to have to be motivated by prizes to get vaccinations. Lam said the government should ensure that people who are unfit for vaccinations would not get the jabs just because of the prizes.

Announcement of deaths

On Monday, nine people were taken by ambulance to hospitals from Community Vaccination Centres or designated general out-patient clinics of the Hospital Authority.

They were sent to hospitals after experiencing common side effects after vaccination and were in a stable condition. Six were discharged, one was admitted for observation and two were discharged against medical advice.

Thomas Tsang Ho-fai, a former consultant in community medicine at the Department of Health and a member of the government’s advisory panel on Covid-19 vaccines, said on May 31 that many people were under the wrong impression that the death rate of vaccinated people was higher than those who had been uninoculated.

Tsang said the panel had investigated more than 20 deaths related to vaccinated people, but there was no evidence they were caused by vaccinations.

On June 1, the government said individual deaths would only be announced if any potential association with the vaccination was detected. Citing a preliminary investigation, it said the death of a 44-year-old Indonesian domestic worker, announced on May 21, was not associated with vaccination.

“We aren’t holding back the information, but only reporting meaningful cases to the people … We believe that if we only reveal cases that have a potential link with the vaccine, it will be more clear,” Health Secretary Sophia Chan told RTHK on June 2.

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