Relax Covid rules only for the vaccinated: expert

Leading microbiologist Ho Pak-leung warned on Monday that it’s just a matter of time before Hong Kong is hit by a new wave of Covid-19 infections, so social distancing measures should only be relaxed for those who are fully vaccinated.

“We have to prepare for the future. The virus would not disappear in the world. In Asia, the outbreak is very serious in many places. If Hong Kong does not do well in its safeguards, the virus will definitely come back,” Ho said on an RTHK programme.

“If the borders are not closed indefinitely and social distancing rules are not in place forever, the virus will certainly enter the community, and the fifth wave will certainly come,” the University of Hong Kong professor warned.

Ho said that even though Hong Kong has achieved “zero case” status, and the virus strain that caused the fourth wave had disappeared from the community, social distancing rules should be maintained because of the city’s low vaccination rate.

“The government really has to think about it carefully. It has to come up with a solution that will in the long run ease the pandemic situation in Hong Kong. Although we have achieved ‘zero cases’ now, if the relaxation of social distancing rules is not linked to vaccination, people would not get jabs,” he said.

“Local social distancing measures should only be relaxed for vaccinated people. Even for people who claim they are not suitable to get the shots, the rules should not be relaxed for them,” said Ho.

The rules should only be eased for the entire population if the vaccination rate is high enough, say at 70 to 80 percent, he said, because by then even if the coronavirus enters Hong Kong again, it would be unlikely for it to lead to big clusters of infections.

While he supports incentives being introduced by the government and businesses for people to get jabs, Ho said the government must clear up misunderstandings about the safety of the vaccines.

For example, Ho said the manufacturer of the German-made BioNTech vaccines says people who are allergic to its ingredients should not receive the shots, but overseas data show only an average of 4 to 5 people in a million are in this category.

He said this means more than 99 percent of those who are currently eligible to get the shots in Hong Kong can get it, and it’s wrong for people who have high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes to think they cannot be inoculated.