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Hong Kong issues a COVID vaccine passport

QR codes for the "LeaveHomeSafe" COVID-19 contact-tracing app are seen outside a shopping mall at the first day of a vaccine passport roll out, following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Hong Kong, China, February 24, 2022. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

On Thursday, Hong Kong issued vaccine passports requiring anyone aged 12 and up to have at least one COVID-19 immunisation, paving the path for mainland Chinese workers to assist in containing an escalating outbreak.

The news: Residents would be required to present their vaccination records in order to enter places such as supermarkets, shopping malls, and restaurants, which will be a big nuisance in a city where retail malls connect railway stations to apartments and office buildings.

  • Separately, Hong Kong’s mayor, Carrie Lam, utilised emergency powers granted by British colonial-era regulations to exempt mainland Chinese employees and projects from any licensing or other legal requirements to work in the city.
  • As Hong Kong’s health system becomes increasingly overburdened, city officials have urged mainland Chinese counterparts for assistance in building extra isolation, treatment, and testing facilities, as well as boosting the workforce.
  • “Hong Kong’s healthcare system, manpower, anti-epidemic facilities and resources … will soon be insufficient to handle the huge number of newly confirmed cases detected every day,” the government said in a statement.
QR codes for the “LeaveHomeSafe” COVID-19 contact-tracing app are seen outside a shopping mall at the first day of a vaccine passport roll out, following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Hong Kong, China, February 24, 2022. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

What’s going on: Hong Kong recorded an all-time high of 8,674 new COVID-19 infections on Wednesday, as the global financial centre prepares to test its 7.4 million residents as part of a “dynamic zero COVID” policy similar to mainland China.

  • Allowing mainland doctors to practise in Hong Kong has been a contentious subject in the global financial centre, which has long had some of the strictest licensing requirements in the world in order to maintain excellence in its public health system.
  • Many local doctors were outraged when the city passed a rule allowing overseas-trained doctors to practise without having to pass a local licensure exam last year.
  • The new outbreak has severely weakened Hong Kong’s medical frontlines, with more than 1,200 medical personnel affected as of Wednesday.
A person scans a QR code as QR codes for the “LeaveHomeSafe” COVID-19 contact-tracing app are seen outside a shopping mall at the first day of a vaccine passport roll out, following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Hong Kong, China, February 24, 2022. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

What’s important: From Thursday, authorities strengthened restrictions in a city that already had some of the strictest rules in the world.

  • Residents will be required to wear masks during all outside activities and will be unable to remove them to eat or drink on public transportation.
  • With pubs, gyms, and other businesses shuttered and retail malls abandoned, and many citizens working from home, the government announced on Tuesday that schools will close early for the summer and reopen in August.

In addition: As most other big cities learn to live with the virus, many in the metropolis are growing tired of it.

  • As the need for isolation units develops, building on a facility on Lantau Island to build 10,000 units has begun, while private hospitals will accept patients from state hospitals.
  • Researchers from the University of Hong Kong anticipated that new infections might reach 180,000 per day next month, with the city’s testing, treatment, and isolation capacities already at capacity.
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