Vaccine bubble to be expanded on February 24: CE

Chief Executive Carrie Lam on Tuesday announced that vaccine mandates will be tightened on February 24 and it would cover not only entertainment venues but places like schools, libraries and museums as well.

Lam said the plan was aimed at substantially boosting the city’s vaccination rate.

She said officials are still working on details, such as whether students should be exempted while principals, teachers and school staff will be subject to the rules.

She said the government would also appeal to statutory bodies such as the Housing Authority and Urban Renewal Authority to require their staff to get vaccinated.

But there is no plan yet to cover private places like offices and shopping malls, she said.

Lam added that the government had no plans to suspend classes. She said studies had shown the suspension of face-to-face lessons had a huge impact on students, especially those from grassroots families. She said therefore the government had to be very cautious when considering this measure.

Officials had earlier indicated that the “vaccine bubble” would be expanded before the Lunar New Year holiday at the start of February.

But the CE now said the government would like to give more time to venues such as restaurants to prepare for the new arrangement, adding that people also need time to get their jabs.

Meanwhile, Lam admitted that the recent Omicron cluster linked to an imported case had affected the planned resumption of quarantine-free travel with the mainland.

“I will not deny that that has an impact, which means that we will have to wait another while before we could put in place this very sought-after resumption of normal travel between Hong Kong and the mainland,” she said.

She said she had reprimanded the chairman and CEO of Cathay Pacific, after one of its aircrew members violated coronavirus rules and led to the Omicron cluster.

The chairman of the Federation of Restaurants, Simon Wong, welcomes the postponement of the vaccine bubble.

Wong said the industry would have been hit hard had the rules been introduced before the crucial Lunar New Year holiday period.

“Overall we estimated that there would be a drop of business of at least 20 percent, when we see that the cancellation of bookings in the past few days has amounted to about 10 to 15 percent, and besides that about 50 percent of the [customers] are considering to cancel [their bookings],” he told RTHK.

“But the decision of the government now is very good for our business, at least we can sustain our business from now on until February 24.”