People in Hong Kong register for a lottery to win an apartment at the Grand Central residential complex and other prizes, on June 15. The city’s business chambers and companies have announced a host of giveaways to encourage Hongkongers to get the jab. Photo: AP
George Leung
George Leung

Coronavirus: low vaccination rate will undermine Hong Kong’s role as a global city

  • High vaccination rates have made it possible for the US and Europe to ease travel and other restrictions, allowing life and business to return to normal
  • Meanwhile, the slow pace of vaccination here has delayed a fuller reopening, without which businesses and livelihoods will continue to suffer

A flurry of good news in recent weeks is pointing the way to a post-pandemic landscape – in some parts of the world, at least. 

In the United States, both New York and California removed most of their pandemic-related restrictions after 70 per cent of people received at least one vaccine shot. In the European Union, meanwhile, where more than 50 per cent of residents have now had their first dose, a vaccine certificate programme has been approved that will allow free travel within the bloc. 
Here in Hong Kong, we have also had some progress on the long road back to normal, with the announcement this week of the easing of some of the city’s pandemic measures. Shorter hotels quarantine periods and an increase in the number of people allowed to gather in certain indoor environments are certainly a step in the right direction. 
But with vaccination rates still stubbornly low, it seems we will not be able to freely resume travel and fully reopen any time soon.

Businesses across Hong Kong have been devastated as a result of the pandemic. The travel industry and associated sectors like retail and restaurants have most obviously been hit hard.

But they are far from the only ones suffering: members of the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce range from small and medium-sized enterprises and start-ups to global corporations, across all sectors, and very few have escaped unscathed.

When businesses in Hong Kong suffer, the impact ripples out to the wider population very quickly. While the unemployment rate has recovered slightly, at 6 per cent it is still more than double the pre-pandemic level. The continuing uncertainty about reopening means it is difficult for employers to plan for the future, including hiring staff and growing their businesses. 

The business community appreciates that the government’s policies have been highly effective in keeping the virus at bay. And we understand that, with Hong Kong’s vaccination rate at such a low level, it remains unsafe to return to restriction-free travel. 

But Hong Kong’s success and prosperity have been built on our role as an international commercial hub. This means people need to be able to travel in and out of the city with ease – whether this involves a long-haul flight or cross-border day trip. And it is not just senior executives who need to travel as part of their jobs. 

Being a global city also means that many Hong Kong residents – both locals and expats – have family and friends living overseas. The long-term separation from our loved ones is increasingly difficult to bear when there is no timetable to ease the quarantine rules.

Another concern is that the reluctance of people in Hong Kong to get vaccinated could cause long-term damage to our role as a global financial and business hub. 

The low vaccination rates mean the city remains vulnerable to another Covid-19 outbreak. I’m sure we have all seen the news about new waves of Covid-19 cases in places like Thailand, Australia and Taiwan, which had previously escaped major outbreaks.
These community infections show it is almost impossible to entirely prevent cases from getting through. But, once we reach herd immunity, the virus would quickly be stopped in its tracks.

We know that a small minority of people genuinely cannot get vaccinated, so it is important for everyone else to have their shots to protect these more vulnerable members of society. 

The business community in Hong Kong strongly supports the city’s vaccination drive. On July 2, the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce will launch its series of seven lucky draws. More than 5,000 prizes donated by our members are up for grabs, which to date are valued at over HK$40 million (US$5.2 million) in total. We hope this will help encourage more people to get vaccinated. 

Hong Kong’s vaccination take-up has got off to a slow start, but we hope the pace will gather momentum as the global vaccination figures – now over 2.7 billion doses administered – increase people’s confidence in the vaccine.

This is the only path forward that will protect the health of all Hong Kong people, enable business operations to resume and allow our economy to return to prosperity once again.

George Leung is CEO of the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce