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LCQ21: Epidemic prevention measures upon resumption of normalcy in Hong Kong
     Following is a question by the Hon Chan Hok-fung and a written reply by the Secretary for Health, Professor Lo Chung-mau, in the Legislative Council today (March 22):


     In the Report on the Work of the Government released early this month, the former Premier of the State Council pointed out that after entering the stage of regularised epidemic prevention and control, the work focus of epidemic prevention and control would be on health protection, prevention of serious illnesses, as well as promoting upgrading of vaccines and development of new drugs. Besides, the Hong Kong SAR Government has also lifted the mask mandate since the 1st of this month. Regarding the epidemic prevention measures and strategies upon resumption of normalcy in Hong Kong, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) as it was pointed out in the Report on the Safety Monitoring of COVID-19 Vaccines in Hong Kong regularly released by the Government that, among the death cases concerning persons who had been administered with COVID-19 vaccines, none of the cases were associated with vaccination, whether the Government has plans to step up publicity and education to the public on the safety and importance of vaccination; if so, of the details;
(2) given that currently the Hong Kong Childhood Immunisation Programme provides immunisation to children from birth to five years old, how the Government determines the list of immunisation recommended and whether a mechanism is in place for reviewing the list regularly, and whether the COVID-19 vaccines will be included in such list; if so, of the details;
(3) whether it will develop and purchase the bivalent COVID-19 vaccines using inactivated vaccines as their basis, and provide free vaccination for members of the public through the Government Vaccination Programme launched every year; if so, of the timetable; and
(4) as it is learnt that quite a number of mask factories were established in Hong Kong during the epidemic, whether the Government will render assistance to such mask factories in upgrading and transformation, and request government departments or public hospitals to incorporate clauses into the mask procurement contracts requiring the suppliers to provide a certain percentage of masks that are made in Hong Kong, so as to develop mask production into a local strategic industry, thereby preventing the recurrence of the epidemic; if so, of the details?

     Following three years of COVID-19 epidemic in Hong Kong, with the ever evolvement of the virus and Omicron becoming the predominating variant, coupled with the enhancement of prevention and treatment capacities of the local healthcare system and the handling capacity of society as a whole, the risk level posed by COVID-19 to local public health has apparently altered. With the cancellation of issuing isolation orders from January 30, 2023, the management of the COVID-19 epidemic by the Government has entered a new stage and a new mode, with a view to gradually establishing a system of the "new normal" and having COVID-19 managed as one of the upper respiratory tract infections. The lifting of mask-wearing requirement on March 1 marked a formal end of all social distancing measures and our society is resuming normalcy in full.

     In consultation with the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau (CEDB), the Civil Service Bureau (CSB), the Financial Services and the Treasury Bureau (FSTB), the Innovation, Technology and Industry Bureau (ITIB), the Home Affairs Department (HAD), the Department of Health (DH) and the Hospital Authority (HA), the reply to various parts of the question raised by the Hon Chan Hok-fung is as follows:
(1) The Comirnaty and CoronaVac vaccines provided in Hong Kong are both highly effective in preventing severe cases and deaths from COVID-19. They can provide effective protection to those vaccinated in preventing serious complications and even death after infection. To combat the COVID-19 epidemic, the Government has been strongly appealing to and encouraging the public to get vaccinated, with a view to protecting the community and members of the public by increasing the vaccination rate in Hong Kong. Thanks to the efforts of various sectors and the support of the public, the vaccination rates for the second and third doses in Hong Kong have reached 93 per cent and 84 per cent respectively, while the effective vaccination rate after infection equivalent to having received three doses is 95 per cent, allowing Hong Kong to resume normalcy in full with a high vaccination rate.
     The Centre for Health Protection (CHP) of the DH has been disseminating information on vaccination to the public through various channels including thematic websites, Announcements in the Public Interest on television and radio stations, social media platforms, newspapers, the GovHK Notifications mobile application, the Health Education Infoline, experts interviews and health talks, public transport, outdoors and digital media, etc to enable the public to obtain the latest information. The CHP also produced various related health education materials, including leaflets, posters, infographics and pamphlets, etc for dissemination at the community level to enhance promotion. The CHP maintains close liaison with different stakeholders, keeps them posted of the latest situation and preventive measures, for the sake of soliciting their help and support to spread health-related messages to the public and encourage them to receive vaccination.
     The Government is committed to protecting targeted groups, especially the elderly and children who have weaker resistance to diseases. The CSB launched the Home Vaccination Service (HVS) in April 2022 covering all 18 districts to proactively get in touch with elderly aged 70 or above, or persons with impaired mobility due to illness or physical disability who have not received COVID-19 vaccination before, and provide them with free door-to-door vaccination service. The CSB then commissioned the Senior Citizen Home Safety Association in September 2022 to reach out to users of its care-on-call service to brief the elderly persons who have yet to get vaccinated on the importance of vaccination, with a view to effectively disseminating the message of receiving vaccination to them through their trusted companions. At the district level, the 18 District Offices under the HAD have stepped up COVID-19 vaccination activities in various districts since August 2022 so as to enable citizens of all ages, especially children and the elderly who are more vulnerable to serious infection, to be vaccinated as early as possible to obtain the much needed proper protection.

     Furthermore, since September 2022, the Health Bureau (HHB), the CSB, the HAD and the Housing Department have joined hands to launch the scheme to visit elderly to encourage COVID-19 vaccination, which was coordinated by District Offices in collaboration with district organisations and the property management sector. Under the scheme, door-to-door visits were made to households in public housing estates and "three-nil" buildings with tenants aged 70 or above who have yet to receive COVID-19 vaccination and persuade them to get vaccinated as soon as possible. Elderly persons who are willing to receive vaccination will have arrangements made for them to receive vaccination under the HVS or participate in district vaccination events. On the other hand, to encourage more members of the public to bring their children to receive COVID-19 vaccination, the Government has held activities such as parent-child carnivals and workshops in hope that more parents could understand the importance and urgency of early COVID-19 vaccination. The Government rolled out a series of promotion and education activities. Apart from the online programmes co-produced with a parenting website, parent-child workshops had also been held at different kindergartens to let parents and children learn about COVID-19 vaccination while having fun from workshops and animations, etc as guided by instructors.

     The Government appeals to members of the public who have not received a suitable number of doses of vaccine to get the doses as soon as possible for self-protection. The Government will consider the need to adjust the measures having regard to the progress of vaccination and the development of the overall epidemic situation.
(2) The CHP has been keeping abreast of the latest position of the World Health Organization on immunisation and vaccination, the scientific evidence of new vaccines, the latest global and local epidemiology of vaccine preventable diseases, and the advice and practical experience of health authorities across the world. The Scientific Committee on Vaccine Preventable Diseases (SCVPD) under the CHP holds regular meetings and gives recommendations to the CHP regarding the types of vaccines to be incorporated into the Hong Kong Childhood Immunisation Programme from the public health perspective. Furthermore, the SCVPD and the Scientific Committee on Emerging and Zoonotic Diseases, joined by the Chief Executive's expert advisory panel, convene regular meetings to discuss and issue consensus interim recommendations on the use of COVID-19 vaccines in Hong Kong. The Government will consider the future arrangement for the COVID-19 vaccination programme with reference to the relevant recommendations, including whether it is necessary to regularise the programme and subsidise high-risk groups to get vaccinated as with seasonal influenza.
(3) The Government will continue to keep abreast of the latest development of COVID-19 vaccine and the global epidemic situation, as well as keep close liaison with various drug manufacturers. The Government has amended the relevant legislation to facilitate drug manufacturers to register their COVID-19 vaccines in Hong Kong and supply to the private healthcare market, with a view to providing members of the public with more different choices when getting vaccinated. The Government understands from the drug manufacturers that the bivalent inactivated COVID-19 vaccines are still in the research and development stage. If the bivalent inactivated COVID-19 vaccines are successfully developed, the Government will evaluate the drug manufacturers' applications for registration of the vaccines in Hong Kong in accordance with the established mechanism. The Government will also make reference to scientific evidence, clinical data and the advice of experts when considering whether to procure the vaccines for use in the Government vaccination programme by the eligible population.
     The Government has also all along welcomed vaccine development by research institutions in Hong Kong. Since April 2020, the Health and Medical Research Fund (HMRF) under the HHB has commissioned four COVID-19 vaccine development-related research projects undertaken by two local universities. Separately, for the open call for investigator-initiated projects of the HMRF, developing candidate vaccines or therapeutics against respiratory pathogens (including COVID-19) has been added as one of the thematic priorities in the current open call. Higher priority for funding will be given to proposals addressing the thematic priorities. The closing deadline for applications is by end-March 2023.
(4) According to the information provided by the CEDB, the Government's Dedicated Fund on Branding, Upgrading and Domestic Sales provides funding support to small and medium enterprises to upgrade and restructure as well as to develop business in 37 economies with which Hong Kong has signed Free Trade Agreements and/or Investment Promotion and Protection Agreements. Funding has been approved under the Fund to support a local mask producer to explore overseas market in the past. The Government will continue to encourage enterprises to leverage the various support measures to enhance their competitiveness and explore more diversified markets.
     Besides, according to the information provided by the ITIB, the Government has been dedicated to supporting enterprises through different channels to upgrade and transform by utilising innovation and technology. For example, the Technology Voucher Programme subsidises local enterprises/organisations in using technological services and solutions on a matching basis to improve productivity, or upgrade and transform their business processes. The Government will also strengthen collaboration with the Hong Kong Productivity Council to support enterprises in upgrading to smart production.

     In terms of procurement, during the epidemic, the Government has been active in global sourcing of masks, including those supplied by local mask manufacturers. At the same time, the HA has also been active in global sourcing, including the procurement of locally developed and manufactured surgical respirators through local suppliers for frontline healthcare staff. 

     It is the Government's procurement policy to encourage more participation of local and overseas suppliers through fair, open and competitive bidding procedures, in accordance with the principles of the Agreement on Government Procurement of the World Trade Organization, so as to obtain goods and services at the best value for money in support of the Government's programmes and work. Government bureaux and departments have been procuring various goods and services to meet their operational needs. The HA's procurement is also governed by the mechanisms and procedures set out in the Hospital Authority Procurement and Materials Management Manual. It is to ensure that the procurement is open, fair and competitive. Numerous factors will be considered in the procurement process, including product specifications, safety, quality, quality management of the manufacturer and price. The HA's infection control experts will also review whether the relevant equipment meets the infection control requirements and relevant safety standards. The HA will continue to procure various types of personal protective equipment, including surgical masks and surgical respirators, through appropriate tendering procedures.
Ends/Wednesday, March 22, 2023
Issued at HKT 15:30
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