Hong Kong is considering banning unvaccinated residents from entering certain businesses in a bid to prevent the transmission of a new, more contagious coronavirus variant already found in the city, the minister in charge of the Covid-19 jab drive said.
The stricter rules revealed by Civil Service Secretary Patrick Nip Tak-kuen on Saturday followed the World Health Organization's (WHO) decision overnight to name the new variant detected in South Africa "Omicron", after the Greek letter. It also said the variant was one "of concern" for the greater risks it could pose than the Delta variety.
Elsewhere, Switzerland, and Antigua and Barbuda, became the latest countries to impose new restrictions on travellers from Hong Kong, where two cases with the new variant - previously known as B.1.1.529 - have been found so far. Visitors from the city must present a negative test and undergo a 10-day quarantine before entering Switzerland.
In response to the new risks posed by the variant, which has a large number of mutations, Nip said health authorities were considering plans to ban unvaccinated residents from entering "high-risk" premises, such as restaurants, schools, hostels, cinemas, performance halls and sports venues.
"When there are some people choosing not to get the shots for non-medical reasons, we will need to have different treatment for them and those who have been vaccinated," he told a radio show on Saturday.
"Otherwise, the inoculated might have to pay the consequences that will arise from the choices made by the unvaccinated."
The approach was endorsed by leading University of Hong Kong's microbiologist Yuen Kwok-yung and other experts who advised the government, Nip said, adding there were plenty of overseas examples to refer to.
The approach of "punishing" residents who refused to be vaccinated was floated by city officials in May, when they announced plans to boost the city's sluggish inoculation drive.
Earlier this week, Hong Kong finally hit its initial target of having 70% of the eligible population vaccinated with a first dose, almost nine months since its citywide drive was launched in February.
On Saturday, Nip said the city should aim for a rate of at least 80% in striving for a quarantine-free resumption of travel with mainland China and overseas countries.
He announced that from next year, 10 of the existing 21 community vaccination centres would continue to operate, with three providing Sinovac shots and seven offering BioNTech
jabs. Vaccination stations would also be set up in 11 public hospitals.
From next Friday, residents can also get doses on the government's new vaccination vehicles to be parked in housing estates in Sha Tin, Kwun Tong, Kwai Tsing and Tuen Mun, according to a government statement.