Getting a jab: One step closer to Covid travel visa

February 24, 2021 10:38
Photo: HK Government

Whether Hong Kong people would take the vaccine shot from Sinovac or BioNTech is less of a question than when they can fly to where they want with the vaccine passport.

In the first place, who wants to get 14-day quarantine even in the Presidential Suite at Mandarin Oriental?

After a year of social distancing in which our longest trip to have is probably Cheung Chau, Hong Kong people are starting to dream about flying out of this tiny city in the Year of Ox, or at least we can visit Macau which recorded zero casualty during the pandemic. Of course, it goes without saying the open border with China will make all the difference to our depressed economy.

Before that, one would need to get a jab first. Much of the city’s focus lies on the comparison between the vaccine from Sinovac and that of Europe-made BioNTech/Fosun. Sinovac, the first vaccine Hong Kong could get with has an initial 50 per cent efficacy rate, while the soon-to-arrive BioNTech/Fosun jab has a much higher efficacy rate.

To lead by example, Chief Executive Carrie Lam and her deputies have received their Sinovac shots, but that could be a kiss of the death for the mainland vaccine, given many citizens chose to act against her advice, as evidenced by the fact that many preferred to leave their contacts instead of using the government- developed contact tracing app LeaveHomeSafe.

Still, about 70,000 people have signed up for the vaccine shot for the next two weeks.

Covid shots appeared to function better than it originally hoped, based on the test sample from Israel and the United Kingdom, as the vaccines stopped most people from getting sick and significantly reduced transmission of the disease.

As such, more countries are looking forward to the vaccine passport. In fact, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) says it expects its digital Covid Travel Pass will be ready "within weeks". It is likely to come in the form of a mobile app that verifies a passenger has had the Covid-19 tests or vaccines required to enter a country.

This week, Greece prime minister urged the European Commission to introduce a vaccination certificate, echoed by Denmark and Estonia. Spain even came up with an idea for a database of vaccine refusers to be shared with the EU countries.

In this part of the world, Thailand, Asia’s most tourist-friendly country, welcomes the vaccine passport.

According to the Tourism Authority of Thailand, 75 per cent of the 4,127 British it surveyed agreed to be inoculated if it became a mandatory requirement among destination countries. However, 41 per cent of them would not inoculate if the quarantine policy remains.

Meanwhile, Qatar Airways says it is ready to operate international flights to Phuket in the third quarter if Thailand loosens the 14-day quarantine at beach destinations

Likewise, the biggest incentive for Hong Kong would probably be the vaccine passport to Japan, although the two countries must sort out what vaccine they can both accept.

Meanwhile, a travel bubble arrangement among Hong Kong, Macau and mainland China are well expected, much like the bilateral arrangement Singapore and Malaysia are discussing to allow travel without quarantine for those who are vaccinated.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson put it best, “there was "no credible route to a zero-Covid Britain nor indeed a zero-Covid world".

British plans to lift all social restrictions by June, but he stressed the decisions to be made at every stage would be led by “data, not dates”.

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EJ Insight writer