Hong Kong has warned it could ban unvaccinated people from restaurants, schools and entertainment venues.
The nation’s leader Carrie Lam has said those who have not been inoculated against COVID-19 may be prevented from entering public places if another wave hits.
The Chinese special administrative region started its COVID-19 vaccination programme in February but only around 14% of people have been fully vaccinated.
On Monday, Lam denied the potential bans were punishment for people who chose not to get the jab and said she hoped they would not have to be implemented, The Standard Hong Kong reported.
Lam, who did not give a timetable for implementation of the proposals, said: “If Hong Kong’s vaccination rate for the next three months is high enough, I am confident that such measures will never be implemented while battling the possible fifth COVID wave.”
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She added: "I have noticed that some newspaper headlines said the government is punishing members of the public, but don't be mistaken, it's a public-health practice to adjust epidemic-control measures based on vaccine take-ups.”
Lam said those who could not have a vaccine due to being “medically unfit” would not be banned from public places.
How Hong Kong has dealt with the pandemic
Hong Kong has largely controlled the virus, with around 11,800 infections and 210 deaths.
Against this backdrop, the majority of residents have opted to delay vaccinations.
Life has essentially returned to normal since the outbreak of COVID-19, with schools reopened, most workers back in offices and restaurants and shopping malls full.
The government has kept outdoor gatherings restricted to no more than four people, a move critics say aims to prevent any repeat of the 2019 protests.
Hong Kong has also relaxed some coronavirus rules, such as shortened quarantine time for vaccinated residents, as worries over adverse reactions and a lack of confidence in the Chinese-made Sinovac vaccine has hit vaccine demand.
Residents are allowed to choose whether to take Sinovac or Germany's BioNTech vaccine but there remains a surplus of unused vaccines for both, and the BioNTech doses will start to expire from August, the government said.
Approximately 2.3 million COVID vaccines have been used, with one-fifth of Hong Kong’s population currently inoculated with at least one dose, rthk.hk reported.
To avoid wastage, Hong Kong may donate vaccines or cancel future batches, which could hinder future orders, authorities said.
Meanwhile, police cited coronavirus restrictions to ban, for a second year running, an annual vigil to commemorate the Chinese Communist government's bloody crackdown on student-led pro-democracy protests in Beijing's Tiananmen Square in 1989.
Despite the ban, organisers expect many people to mark the 4 June anniversary, though in small rather than big groups.
Further details of plan to ban unvaccinated people from public places
Health secretary Sophia Chan confirmed that possible venues that could ban unvaccinated citizens include restaurants, schools, cinemas and sports venues.
Hong Kong Football Club has already instructed all staff to get vaccinated by the end of June or be denied future bonuses, promotions and pay rises.
The request, an example of the rising pressure on residents in the Asian financial hub to get jabbed, comes days after the city's government launched a broad “Early Vaccination for All” campaign to incentivise its 7.5 million population to get vaccinated.
In an internal memo sent by Hong Kong FC, general manager Mark Pawley said staff who take the vaccine by the end of June will receive HK$2,000 (£181) and days off in lieu for each jab they take.
Those who do not will be denied future pay rises and bonuses.
Lam added: “I hope people who have yet to take the jab will also realise that we need them to participate in order to be fair to all those who have taken a jab hitherto, so that all of us together could reach a higher level of vaccination rate that would keep the city safe.”
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