Hong Kong to ease coronavirus restrictions as daily cases fall

Hong Kong will ease strict coronavirus restrictions from February 18, reopening sports and entertainment facilities and extending dining hours, Health Secretary Sophia Chan said on Wednesday, February 10, as the city logged a steady decline in daily cases.

Chan said catering businesses would be able to operate until 10 pm, granting them an additional 4 hours. Beauty salons, theme parks, cinemas and all sports facilities would be allowed to resume with conditions in place.

"We are cautiously optimistic on the pandemic," Chan told a news conference, adding that she hoped the city could quickly get back on its feet.

New cases have fallen to below 30 a day from over 80 at the end of January.

Separately, a government advisory panel for COVID-19 vaccines said on Wednesday that China's Sinovac vaccine was safe and effective, bringing it a step closer to getting the green light in the Asian financial hub.

The panel said it was awaiting further information from Sinovac and would thereafter make a recommendation to the government, which has the final decision on whether to approve the vaccine.

Hong Kong's government last week said it was exempting Chinese drug maker Sinovac from publishing results of its third phase clinical trials in medical journals due to the "urgency" of the need for vaccines.

The BioNTech vaccine – the first vaccine approved in Hong Kong – was required to have published their results in a medical journal before being examined by the advisory panel.

The first batch of one million BioNTech doses is expected to arrive in the second half of February.

Hong Kong's vaccination program has lagged other developed cities and mainland China which started its vaccine program in July last year. Hong Kong has a separate approval process from the mainland.

A University of Hong Kong survey found that fewer than 30% of people would accept the Sinovac vaccine.

Hong Kong has secured a total of 22.5 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine from Fosun Pharma-BioNTech, Sinovac and Oxford-AstraZeneca.

The city of 7.5 million people has recorded around 10,700 infections and 188 deaths since January last year. – Rappler.com