By ALICE FUNG and KEN MORITSUGU – Associated Press
HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong on Thursday introduced compulsory vaccination for entry to shopping malls, restaurants and a host of other places as it battles a growing omicron outbreak and tries to overcome vaccine reluctance among parts of its population.
Businesses have posted a QR code at their entrances that people can scan with a smartphone app to check their vaccination status before entering.
Anyone aged 12 and over must have at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine to enter these locations. Beginning April 30, people 18 and older must take two doses. Some will require booster shots from June 30th.
Hong Kong, a semi-autonomous Chinese city, is struggling to enforce a zero-COVID strategy modeled on the strict measures mainland China has taken to keep the virus at bay. A sharp rise in cases caused by the Omicron variant has left the city with insufficient hospital beds and isolation rooms needed for a zero-COVID approach.
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Mainland experts have been brought in to help set up temporary testing facilities and new isolation wards to conduct a mass test of the entire population of 7.4 million people over the next month, much like China is doing in cities hit by even relatively small outbreaks . The city of Hohhot in China’s Inner Mongolia region on Thursday began a sixth round of city-wide testing in an outbreak with 277 confirmed cases.
In Hong Kong, the Health Ministry reported 8,798 new cases of people testing positive in the past 24 hours, the highest daily total since the pandemic began.
The ongoing outbreak, coupled with the new requirement to vaccinate entering certain premises, has prompted more people to get vaccinated. According to the government, about 5.9 million people, or 87% of the population aged 12 and over, have received at least one dose.
Nearly 45,000 people received their first dose of vaccine in the 24 hours through 8 p.m. Wednesday, and more than 43,000 received either their second or third dose, the city government said.
The vaccination requirement also applies to fresh food markets, play centers, gyms, beauty salons and barber shops, swimming pools, department stores and nightclubs. Exceptions apply to people making a delivery or picking up an item, including takeaway food.
King Woo, who was waiting for snacks outside a restaurant, said people should have the freedom to choose whether to use the vaccination card.
“Even if I’m not vaccinated, I should have the right to eat locally,” he said. “That’s why I prefer to go take away in the current situation.”
In restaurants, an employee must check the vaccination status of each customer and scan it with their smartphone. Many other places, including malls, do not require verification. The government said police could conduct spot checks.
Link, an operator of 75 malls and 52 fresh food markets, said it had posted the QR codes at entrances and passageways to parking lots and condominiums, reminding workers to get vaccinated as well.
“Our team has worked hard to provide the safest environment for our tenants and the public,” Link CEO George Hongchoy said in a press release.
Moritsugu reported from Beijing.
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