Hong Kong-Singapore travel bubble: Is Sinovac’s efficacy against Delta’s coronavirus variant the next stumbling block?

Controversy over the efficacy of Sinovac vaccine The emerging dispute between Hong Kong and Singapore adds another layer of uncertainty to the long-awaited agreement travel bubble between two cities.
Professor Lau Chak-sing, Convenor of the Advisory Group on Hong Kong Issues coronavirus The efficacy of the vaccine produced in mainland China was defended on Thursday, a day after China disputed the lack of data on its effectiveness against the Delta variant.

Hong Kong, where about 701,700 residents have received two doses of the Sinovac vaccine, confirmed three imported cases on Thursday, from Russia, the Philippines and the United Kingdom, marking the city’s 31st consecutive day without local cases. The new cases bring the city’s total to 11,948, with 212 related deaths.

On the other hand, the Center for Health Protection said late on Thursday that it was investigating a suspected Fuyang case of a 39-year-old staff member of the Kazakh consulate. He arrived via Bangkok from Kazakhstan on Monday.

Singapore has removed residents who have been vaccinated by Sinovac from the list of vaccinated residents.Photo: AFP

A sample he submitted on Wednesday tested positive for Covid-19 at a private laboratory, but the same sample tested inconclusively at a Ministry of Health laboratory. He was confirmed infected in Kazakhstan last month and is following up with the country’s health authorities, the center said.

The man is a resident of Manhattan Heights, Kennedy Town, the source said, adding that the positive result from a private lab had a low viral load.

Meanwhile, Liu said recent data showed the Chinese vaccine could be effective against more transmissible coronavirus variants, noting that the World Health Organization had previously endorsed the drug as effective in preventing severe illness and death.

“I believe that different countries want different data from vaccine makers. For example, in the early stages, Hong Kong focused on the efficacy of Sinovac’s vaccine against the virus before the emergence of virus variants,” he said on the radio program.

Sinovac is the most widely used vaccine in the world, but how effective is its Delta protection?

A Sinovac spokesman told Reuters last month that preliminary results from blood tests of people who received the vaccine showed the vaccine had a neutralizing effect on the Delta variant, especially after the third booster shot, but did not provide details .

On Wednesday, however, Singapore’s Health Minister Ong Ye Kung highlighted the lack of information on the vaccine’s performance.

“(The Sinovac vaccine) is being used in places such as the UAE and Indonesia that are experiencing the Delta variant (outbreak), but there is no data for these places yet,” he said. “We really have no medical or scientific basis … to determine Sinovac’s effectiveness in terms of infection and serious disease.”

Singaporeans who opted for Sinovac’s vaccine are already excluded from the city’s vaccination statistics because it was never approved by local regulators.

The long-delayed travel bubble faces other complications, with Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam recently saying the city is studying the impact of the travel bubble. Singapore plans to relocate From zero-infection strategy to “living with the virus”.

The start of the bubble has been delayed twice – in November and May last year – due to new outbreaks.

Responding to Singapore’s latest policy shift, Hong Kong government sources said on Thursday that local officials were still in dialogue with their counterparts and remained determined to advance the travel corridor.

The Bureau of Commerce and Economic Development stated that the governments of the two countries are reviewing the epidemic situation on both sides, and if there are further arrangements, they will be announced in due course.

The city-state’s vision of a return to normalcy includes proposals to allow quarantine-free travel and large gatherings, and even potentially halt large-scale contact tracing operations and daily case counts as vaccination rates climb.

As of Tuesday, 38.7% of Singapore’s population had been fully vaccinated, with the goal of raising that number to two-thirds by early August.

So far, Singapore’s drug regulator has only approved the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines. But residents can still choose Sinovac as long as they pay a small fee for the injections and agree they won’t be covered by the state’s serious side effect compensation scheme.

For now, the only benefit not available to those taking the Sinovac vaccine is the city-state’s exemption from pre-match testing.

As of July 3, 17,296 people had been vaccinated against the Chinese vaccine, according to the city’s health department.

Meanwhile, vaccination rates in Hong Kong lag far behind, with only 22.6% of the city’s 7.5 million residents fully vaccinated as of Thursday. In addition to 701,700 people (9.4% of the total population) who received the Sinovac vaccine twice, about 996,000 residents chose BioNTech.

Hong Kong extends Covid-19 rules but allows some venues to increase capacity

Under the travel bubble plan announced in April, travelers in either direction must be screened before departure and upon arrival, but only Hong Kong will require its residents to be fully vaccinated to qualify.

People under the age of 16, people advised not to be vaccinated for health reasons, and residents using travel documents other than Hong Kong passports are exempt from the vaccination rules.

Tourism Legislative Councilor Yao Sirong said the industry must wait and see any potential changes to vaccination requirements.

“If full vaccination is a prerequisite for both parties, then some people will not be able to join the bubble,” he said.

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So far, about 701,700 Hong Kong people have been vaccinated with the Sinovac vaccine.Photo: Felix Huang

But he pointed out that even if the travel bubble does not recognize Sinovac, its impact on the number of participants is limited.

“Singapore is not a popular tourist destination for Hong Kong,” he said. “But it will affect those who want to visit family and business travelers in Singapore.”

This article appeared in the print edition of the South China Morning Post: Sinovac Trouble Adds New Uncertainty to Hong Kong-Singapore Travel Bubble

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