A group of more than 200 pro-Beijing politicians in Hong Kong is set to be vaccinated against Covid-19 in mainland China, ahead of the rest of the city’s population, in order to attend the Chinese Communist party’s premier political event this year.
The businesspeople, lawmakers and other professionals represent Hong Kong on some of mainland China’s most important legislative bodies. These include the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, a political advisory body, and the National People’s Congress, China’s annual rubber-stamp parliamentary session, which will be held in March.
Most members of the group were set to travel from Hong Kong to Shenzhen on Friday to receive the shot, according to two people with direct knowledge of the plan.
The vaccinations would be implemented to prevent an outbreak at the NPC, one person familiar with the matter said.
Members of the group were so keen to be vaccinated, they sought to bring their families. “Some of the guys asked to bring their wife, but were told no,” one person said.
Hong Kong has been credited with managing Covid-19 relatively well, with 9,868 recorded cases and 167 deaths. But authorities are worried about a new wave of infections, and recently extended social distancing measures and blocked arrivals from countries, such as the UK, where a highly infectious variant of the virus has emerged.
The Hong Kong government has agreed to use a vaccine produced by Sinovac Biotech, a Chinese pharmaceutical company. But plans to start distributing the jab in January were delayed after authorities sought more data over late stage trials.
Sinovac has been criticised as not being sufficiently transparent over varying reported efficacy rates for its vaccine. The jab was found to be 91.3 per cent effective in trials in Turkey and 65 per cent effective in Indonesia. In Brazil, the vaccine was found to have 78 per cent success rate, but that result was revised to 50.4 per cent when “very mild” cases were included in trials.
Hong Kong has been marked by distrust toward Chinese-made vaccines, further complicating the planned rollout. Wallace Lau, convener of the Hong Kong government’s advisory panel on Covid-19 vaccines, said public scepticism was one of the biggest challenges.
Analysts said the move to vaccinate politicians was partly aimed at reassuring residents.
“The Chinese government and Hong Kong government would like to boost the local public’s confidence,” said Sing Ming, an associate professor in political science at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.
Hong Kong is expected to start vaccinations in mid-February, using a jab developed by BioNTech/Pfizer. The city has also entered a supply agreement with the Oxford/AstraZeneca for its vaccine.
Mainland China is battling a renewed outbreak in the northern province of Hebei, next to Beijing, which has triggered mass testing and targeted lockdowns in the capital.