• New rules punted to after Lunar New Year for preparations
  • Comes as city records first local cluster of omicron

By Kari Soo Lindberg and Felix Tam January 3, 2022

Hong Kong will start banning most unvaccinated people from entering restaurants and other leisure facilities next month, as the city’s first local omicron variant cluster drives a campaign to boost its lagging vaccination rate.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said at a regular press briefing Tuesday the new rules would begin Feb. 24. They would apply to venues such as libraries and museums, as well as staff and teachers at schools. There are no plans to extend the vaccine mandate — which requires at least one vaccine dose against Covid-19 — to private workplaces or shopping malls, she added.

The government pushed back the start date of the rules to after the city’s biggest holiday, Lunar New Year, when families will gather in restaurants across the city for several days. Lam said that the hold-up was necessary to allow businesses to prepare, and to give the city time to roll out vaccines to the some 1 million people still without a first dose.

“We can’t possibly ask them to make all the required preparations within a very short time because they have to make big changes with their facilities,” she said of the catering sector.

Hong Kong’s first omicron cluster has raised anxiety about a so-called fifth wave in recent days, and sparked a much-needed jump in vaccinations. Lam said about 18,000 people received a first dose on Monday, and more than 15,000 took their booster. Still, more than 1 million residents have to receive a Covid-19 vaccination.

The government’s success in stamping out local transmission through some of the world’s strictest quarantine rules has given rise to a lack of urgency to get vaccinated.  

Lam’s dedication to the Covid Zero strategy — also adopted by Beijing — was intended to facilitate quarantine-free cross border travel with mainland China. Lam said Tuesday the latest omicron cluster had pushed back the timing on that goal. 

“We will have to wait another while before we could put in place the very sought-after resumption of normal travel between Hong Kong and the mainland,” she said.

— With assistance by Jon Herskovitz