Hong Kong’s preparations for a coronavirus vaccine have become the latest battleground between its government and part of the public skeptical of Beijing’s growing influence in the city.
A year after Hong Kong experienced its worst anti-government protests in more than two decades, the administration of Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam must struggle to convince citizens that it will not force them to take vaccines developed in Mainland China.
“The political situation in Hong Kong is very delicate, so the Hong Kong government is trying to play it very cautiously,” Ronny Tong, one of Ms. Lam’s top advisers, said in an interview with the Financial Times.
The rapid purchase of vaccines is essential for the Asian financial hub, 26% of the economy depends on trade, tourism, travel and logistics.
The protests, which began as opposition to an extradition law, drove Chinese tourists from the mainland in 2019. They were immediately followed by the coronavirus pandemic, which virtually shut down the travel and travel industry. hospitality industry.
Beijing in June imposed a national security law in the territory in response to the protests as the government launched a growing crackdown on opposition dissidents, activists, journalists and politicians.
But although the government has succeeded in largely suppressing the opposition, it still faces a challenge in convincing the public that its absolute loyalty to Beijing does not inform its vaccine policy.
“Let’s not try to politicize what is a science issue for the sake of Hong Kong,” Ms. Lam said this week. Earlier this month, she criticized the “malicious spread of rumors, with people stigmatizing and politicizing the purchase of vaccines.”
Mr Tong, a former politician and lawyer who is also an unofficial member of Ms Lam’s de facto cabinet, the Executive Council, said the vaccine rollout was likely to be affected by the city’s tense local politics with many people who are suspicious of China.
He said he expected some Hong Kong people to refuse to take vaccines made in China.
“We cannot go ahead with drastic measures like keeping people home and not allowing them to go out until they test negative,” he said.
The territory said it has concluded vaccine deals with Chinese pharmaceutical maker Sinovac Biotech and Germany’s BioNTech and its Chinese partner Fosun Pharma. The government has also ordered vaccines from Oxford-AstraZeneca.
Ms Lam said vaccines could start to become available as early as the first quarter of 2021 and a majority of the population would be vaccinated during the year. Vaccines would go first to priority groups, such as the elderly and health workers.
She said on Wednesday that the public would be able to choose which vaccines they might take, in a sharp turn from previous comments.
Some of the public’s skepticism in Hong Kong over mainland China’s vaccines may stem from China’s past vaccine scandals.
Arisina Ma of the Hong Kong Association of Public Physicians said the government’s decision to choose a Chinese vaccine raised questions whether the decision was political because Sinovac had not yet released the results of the trial. phase 3 for its inoculation. “Most of my colleagues take a wait and see approach,” she said.
But William Chui, president of the Hong Kong Society of Hospital Pharmacists, said Sinovac “could maintain a stable vaccine supply” in Hong Kong. “You have no choice but to China,” he said, adding that Sinovac’s vaccine was based on more conventional technology with a longer record than some other coronavirus vaccines.
George Leung, managing director of the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce, said only a small part of the population was skeptical of Chinese vaccines and that the business community expected a “strong recovery” in economic activity in the second. semester 2021..
Still, the government was concerned enough about the number of Hong Kongers who would participate in immunization programs that pro-establishment lawmakers have suggested offering cash incentives of up to HK $ 5,000 ($ 645) to vaccinated residents.
“It’s a matter of trust in China,” said Hong Kong resident Jony Chan, summing up why so many ordinary people doubted the effectiveness of the mainland’s vaccines.