Passengers prepare to enter Shenzhen via the Lok Ma Chau Spur Line Control Point in Hong Kong on the first day of the resumption of normal travel between Hong Kong and mainland China on Jan. 8, 2023.
Li Zhihua | China news service | Getty Images
Mainland China’s move away from its zero-Covid policy has prompted a sharp rise in infections, and the resumption of travel means some are looking further afield for vaccines.
In mid-December, China’s full Covid vaccination rate was nearly 87%, with a 54% increase. The main Covid vaccines approved in China are from Sinovac and Sinopharm.
In recent months, people from the mainland have flocked to Macao to receive western mRNA vaccines, which are being distributed around the world but are not supported by China.
But even if patients tried to book an appointment as early as mid-December, the next available places at Macau University of Science and Technology Hospital, the only place offering injections to tourists, won’t be available until February.
Analysts expect the list of vaccine tourism destinations to grow.
“Natural first destination”: Hong Kong
“I believe the natural first destination for Chinese vaccine tourism is Hong Kong. It will then spread to Asia and the US, maybe even Europe,” Sam Radwan, president of management consultancy Enhance International, told CNBC.
“It’s been a long time since I was in Hong Kong. I can go on vacation and get vaccinated. Doesn’t that kill two birds with one stone? Without further ado, I made my appointment and am getting ready.” A man from Shaanxi province posted on Chinese social media site Weibo on Friday.
Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee said in a news conference in late December that the city had “achieved a relatively high vaccination rate”, adding that it had “a sufficient amount of medicines to fight Covid”.
However, Hong Kong will not offer free Covid vaccinations to short-term travelers.
“We want to prevent visitors from coming to Hong Kong to use the vaccines at the expense of Hong Kong people, and we will not offer Hong Kong residents any government-procured vaccines for free,” Hong Kong officials said, adding that visitors can do so would have to stay at least 30 days to get a booster shot.
Our latest study suggests that Hong Kong and Thailand could benefit most from the international tourism channel as China lifts visa restrictions and outbound travel gradually normalizes
Expect a wave of mainland residents to travel to Hong Kong to get their vaccinations, said Lam Wingho, a member of Hong Kong’s Scientific Committee on Vaccine-Preventable Diseases, according to a local media report.
Lin said he received a steady stream of inquiries from citizens wanting to know how mainland Chinese relatives could be vaccinated in Hong Kong, sources said.
Thailand is another viable destination for vaccination tourists, and the country is among the top destinations for Chinese, which include Japan, South Korea, the United States and Singapore.
Thailand’s tourism and sports minister said in late December he was considering proposing free vaccines for foreign tourists who request booster shots.
And there is interest from the Chinese.
“At first I didn’t plan to go to Thailand, but I’m thinking about it because of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine,” a Shanghai-based Weibo user said after the announcement.
Another Beijing-resident Weibo user wrote that such a policy move would not only help “attract tourists to Thailand,” but would also provide more diversity for vaccination. “Mainland Chinese hoping for more vaccination options can get vaccinated with the vaccines they want. Win win.”
“Getting out of China is definitely a great healing tool for many… I believe the Chinese will travel to where they can get the medicine,” said Sam Radwan, president of management consultancy Enhance International.
CFOTO | Future Publishing | Getty Images
“Regarding the spillover effects of China’s reopening, our latest study suggests that Hong Kong and Thailand could benefit most from the international tourism channel as China lifts visa restrictions and outbound travel gradually normalizes,” Goldman Sachs wrote in a March 27 research note. December.
“Getting out of China is definitely a great healing tool for many… I believe the Chinese will travel to where they can get the medicine,” said Enhance International’s Radwan.