Policy Address | Secretary Ao Ieong: Emergency Covid-19 vaccine may arrive this month

At a debate session at the Legislative Assembly yesterday, Secretary for Social Affairs and Culture, Elsie Ao Ieong, disclosed that the government is expecting the first batch of Covid-19 vaccines at the end of this month.
Although several brands of vaccine are still being tested on the mainland and in other parts of the world, the Secretary revealed the news when asked several times by lawmakers. The lawmakers cited the Chief Executive Ho Iat Seng for saying that the city’s economic revival will rely on the existence of the vaccines.
The first batch of vaccines, the Secretary added, will be of an emergency nature and will only be administered to particular groups of people, such as frontline medical staff and paramedics at the Fire Services Bureau.
On top of that, vaccines for the general public are expected to arrive early next year. “We can’t move [the arrival date] anytime earlier,” Ao Ieong said. “Once the vaccines arrive in Macau, we shall roll out our vaccination plan in phases.”
By phases, the senior official meant that the first phase will include people who have the need to travel abroad. She said that the conditions in most of the western world are still tough, hinting that people travelling to these jurisdictions will need to be vaccinated before departure.
However, she did not rule out the need for vaccination among people travelling to other parts of the world, such as Asia and Oceania.
In previous weekly Covid-19 press briefings, government officials have reiterated that Macau is a signatory of a global vaccine procurement agreement, meaning that the city has registered its intention to purchase Covid-19 vaccines once they become available.
Macau also expressed its intention to purchase 1.4 million doses of the vaccine. The need for such a large number is that previous reports have hinted that the vaccine will only work when delivered in two shots. Local health officials have also confirmed the news. Considering the population of the city at about 700,000, the purchase of 1.4 million shots is justified.
Health officials have assured the public that vaccination in Macau will be voluntary, as people are not forced to take flu shots even when the risk of flu infection is surging.
However, Ao Ieong hinted at the parliament yesterday the that vaccine will not be completely voluntary. “We know that some airline companies are considering mandatory […] shots for passengers,” Ao Ieong said. “Otherwise the passengers will not be allowed to board their flights.”
She said that the vaccination plan will probably go in this direction.
For the time being, Australian carrier Qantas has said that it will require all passengers to show proof of a Covid-19 vaccination at check-in. They will be denied the right to board if no such proof is presented. The flag carrier of the country’s close neighbor, Air New Zealand, has also hinted it will follow suit.

Gov’t expected to relax entry restrictions
When asked by lawmakers about the relaxation of travel restrictions after existence of Covid-19 vaccines, Ao Ieong said that she expects restrictions to relax.
Lawmakers were concerned about whether it will be easier for mainland tourists to come to Macau should the Covid-19 vaccination become the norm. The relaxation of travel restrictions was intended, in the meeting hall of the parliament, to allow for the termination of Covid-19 nucleic acid tests.

Call for the relaunch of mainland
package tours to continue

Regarding the recovery of the local tourism industry, the Secretary disclosed that in September, she met with national tourism officials about the commencement of the Macau-Hengqin Combined Tour.
The reason behind the absence of the tour so far is that the conditions have not been supportive of its commencement, although national officials are aware of Macau’s satisfactory pandemic response effort, and the Macao Government Tourism Office (MGTO) has been working to disseminate the information across the mainland.
Ao Ieong made a pledge that negotiations on the plan will continue until the plan is realized.
At the same time, the MGTO has been helping the local tourism industry to overcome the hurdles brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic, according to the senior official.
Meanwhile, lawmaker Lei Cheng I asked officials for details on the post-pandemic resuscitation measures, adding that even if the Covid-19 vaccine arrives early next year, it will not have an expansive effect across the globe immediately. In this case, the tourism industry will not be revived within a short time.
Addressing the problem, Ao Ieong expressed her trust in her colleagues at the tourism board. “I believe the tourism office will continue in this direction,” the Secretary assured.

Concerns on public Welfare raised
Lawmakers, such as Au Kam San, expressed concerns over public welfare. For example, this year the government decided not to inject funds into the Centralized Provident Fund, as the budget will see a deficit. Their concerns are based on the absence of legal grounds for these special welfare measures.
“There are no legal stipulations for the Wealth Partaking Scheme, for example,” Au pointed out, hinting that it can be altered or suspended at any moment.
On the other hand, Au noted that the government is taking too much of a medical burden on its shoulders. As public healthcare is either free-of-charge or very inexpensive, residents are attracted to these services over private services.
“In the future, probably only ‘non-mainstream doctors’ will conduct private practice, because there is no market,” the lawmaker said.
In response, Ao Ieong said government Health Centers have terminated nightshift service to distribute the market to doctors in private practice. AL

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