‘Vaccine passports are key to reopening to the world’

An expert on medical ethics said on Friday that Hong Kong should consider introducing vaccine passports, saying it would be key for the city to reopen to the rest of the world amid the pandemic.

Calvin Ho, associate professor of law from the University of Hong Kong, who’s also a member of the World Health Organisation (WHO)’s ethics and governance working group, said it’s very unlikely that Covid-19 will disappear the way SARS did in 2003.

“I think the zero-case strategy is not long-term. It’s mainly to allow time for people to get vaccinated. The pandemic in 2003-04 disappeared all of a sudden, but it looks unlikely or even impossible for it to happen this time round,” Ho said.

He noted that Israel and France have both used vaccine passports to manage the pandemic.

“Their objective is to live with the virus. That’s why they have been encouraging their people to get jabbed. Israel has a rather high vaccination rate. We also have to aim for that goal. The world is starting to reopen. It cannot remain closed indefinitely. If the rest of the world is thinking in that direction, Hong Kong should start considering it too,” he said.

He was reacting to a suggestion by HKU microbiologist Yuen Kwok-yung, who said Hong Kong should bring in vaccine passports and ban unvaccinated people from work, school or other public places.

Ho said it has been established that vaccines are safe for most people, and it is possible to strike a balance between people’s freedom and the overall interests of society.

“Let’s talk about schools. For students who are not inoculated for whatever reasons, schools have to decide whether they should be exempted. And then see if they need to, say, get tested every week… I think if it works like that it’d still be fair. People have a duty to society.”

He added, however, that the WHO doesn’t yet have a stance on vaccine passports, because it acknowledges that some poorer countries don’t have enough vaccines for everyone.