Free air tickets, lottery tickets, cash: Hong Kong’s vaccine rewards | Business and Economic News

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When bar and night club owners in Hong Kong met with city officials this month, they wanted to hear how the government plans to vaccinate more resistant groups, and their business is only open to people who have been vaccinated.

Instead, officials reversed the situation by asking how they would help promote one of the slowest Covid-19 vaccinations in cities around the world.

“They only asked us if we have any ideas or plans to increase the vaccination rate,” said Liu Wei, chairman of the Hong Kong and Kowloon Dance Hall and Nightclub Chamber of Commerce, which represents the industry. He said that within five months of the closure, one-fifth of the nightclubs had been closed, and the rest could only receive 10% of their normal income after reopening, which made them eager to see an increase in immunization rates.

Carrie Lam’s government has increasingly relied on local businesses and institutions to help people get vaccinated, as her Beijing-backed government worked hard to convince reluctant residents in an atmosphere of distrust following widespread anti-China protests in 2019. Big companies, restaurants, and even universities have begun to provide cash payments, extra vacations, and even a chance to win $1.4 million worth of apartments.

Karen Grépin, an associate professor at the School of Public Health of the University of Hong Kong, said: “Government officials have been unable to find a way to engage with the community to build momentum for vaccination.” “This is where they falter. But from politics From a perspective, leading it is indeed challenging. This does not mean that they should give up. They should find a way. But it means working through more trustworthy agents.”

More and more companies and institutions stand out. Last week, the city’s international airport announced that it would give away 60,000 tickets to people who were vaccinated before the September deadline. The Hong Kong Jockey Club, which operates racecourses and gaming facilities, provides employees participating in the race with up to three days of paid special holidays and additional insurance.

Even regulators are involved. According to a local newspaper Apple Daily reported on Monday, the Hong Kong Monetary Authority urged banks to provide two days of paid vaccination leave for their employees. The HKMA declined to make specific comments on the talks, but confirmed that it has made a request to promote immunization.

Hong Kong developer China Real Estate Holdings Co., Ltd. and Sino Group’s charity Wu Tingfang Charity Foundation also donated a new apartment worth 10.8 million Hong Kong dollars (1.4 million US dollars) to vaccinated residents.

After providing some incentives, vaccine appointments surged [File: Bloomberg]

Within three weeks after the apartment lottery was announced, the number of vaccine reservations soared to the highest level. On Saturday, about 17,700 people booked BioNTech SE vaccinations, while the number of reservations for Chinese manufacturer Sinovac Biotech Ltd. was 10,500.

The Hongkong and Shanghai Hotel Co., Ltd., which runs the historic Peninsula Hotel in Hong Kong, has provided 2,000 Hong Kong dollars for vaccination to its 1,500 Hong Kong employees. If 70% of local employees can be vaccinated, an additional 2,000 Hong Kong dollars will be provided.

Local universities are also taking measures to encourage injections. The Chinese University of Hong Kong requires students living in dormitories to be vaccinated or to pay for Covid testing every two weeks.

As many parts of the world are competing for more vaccines, the Hong Kong government is in a unique position. The hundreds of thousands of unused mRNA vaccines developed by BioNTech SE and Pfizer are about to expire. If the vaccination rate does not rise, as some other global centers resume meetings and travel, the city may be left behind.

The government tried to make vaccines more convenient and even allowed companies to arrange on-site vaccination. In mid-May, Deloitte announced that 170 employees had been vaccinated at such a meeting.

According to Bloomberg’s vaccine tracker, although Hong Kong is one of the few places in the world where all adults can get the Covid vaccine, only 13.4% of Hong Kong residents have been fully vaccinated. This is much lower than other financial centers, including Singapore (28.3%) and London (28.6%).

Leader Lin, who has long refused suggestions to provide residents with cash or similar rewards, argued last week that her government has completed its work, buying enough vaccines and providing them for free.

“We hope that institutions or employers can provide financial incentives,” she said. “For the government, we will focus on policy.”

‘Unable to survive’

But some business owners and experts believe that the government’s reluctance to take specific measures — such as relaxing mask requirements or 14 to 21 days of travel quarantine requirements — weakens private efforts and in some cases contradicts these measures.

David Weber, a well-known Hong Kong investor and corporate governance activist, mocked on Twitter last week that the airport provides free flights to vaccinated people, and pointed out that anyone who wins a ticket still needs to pay for quarantine. Hong Kong requires all incoming passengers to be isolated in hotels, even if they have a home in Hong Kong.

“Is vaccinated, will I have a chance to pay for the hotel quarantine for 2 or 3 weeks after returning?” Weber wrote. “This state-owned enterprise’s offer is hardly convincing.”

Due to the low vaccination rate, even fully vaccinated people must comply with existing COVID restrictions [File: Lam Yik/Bloomberg]

These measures to restore freedom to vaccinated people are increasingly being carried out worldwide. Both the United States and South Korea have lifted outdoor mask requirements for vaccinated people, and the European Union said it will welcome vaccinated Americans as tourists this summer without the need for isolation.

The Hong Kong government stated that due to the low protection rate among the population and the risk of the spread of new variants, it cannot use such incentives-although South Korea’s vaccination rate is currently lower than in the former British colonies. On Friday, city officials said they would allow a small number of senior bankers on business trips to be exempted from quarantine.

“If we can’t reach a vaccination rate of around 70%, I don’t think we can significantly relax in terms of travel, wearing masks and all social distancing measures. We will be left behind,” a member of the executive committee and doctor who advises Carrie Lam Lin Qingcai said.

Hong Kong’s complex relationship with mainland China hopes that the city will eliminate local transmission before reopening its economically important borders, which has also promoted the conservative stance of officials.

Like the few other Covid safe havens in the Asia-Pacific region that have reduced local cases to zero, the city is likely to be left behind in efforts to stop all infections, especially if other economies accept the Covid-19 pandemic, and move on.

Those who say that although they have been fully vaccinated are frustrated, they are still being too severely restricted. For others who have not yet taken a shot, the lack of relaxation raises the question of why they bother.

“With zero business, you can’t survive like this,” said Chen Zhenrong, chairman of the Hong Kong Lawyers Association. “No one gets vaccinated for a drink.”



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