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Home >News >World >Covid-19 vaccination could win Hong Kongers a million-dollar apartment

HONG KONG : HONG KONG—Private companies are racing to bolster sluggish demand for coronavirus vaccines by offering people giveaways and prizes such as a million-dollar apartment, shopping vouchers and a private airplane party.

In the past week, corporate initiatives have been announced almost every few hours, with some companies extending cash bonuses, share giveaways and extra time off. The city’s Disneyland theme park, which has been battered by sinking tourism, is giving out goody bags with about $30 of swag and vouchers for guests who have gotten at least one shot of a Covid-19 vaccine.

Private businesses are stepping in with the blessing of city officials, who have spurned calls to themselves offer U.S.-style lotteries, cash handouts or other benefits for vaccinated people. Instead, the government is looking at ways to ease socializing and travel for those who have received the injections. Fully vaccinated people still need to quarantine in hotels for at least two weeks upon return to the city from most locations.

The array of corporate offerings has spurred a jump in vaccination sign-ups, though nowhere near the rate officials would like in an effort to reach herd immunity. Close to 1.5 million people in the city of 7.5 million have had both doses of either vaccine available in Hong Kong. The portion of people who have had at least one dose in Singapore, another Asian financial center with a slightly smaller population, is more than twice that.

Officials have warned that reserves of Comirnaty, the vaccine co-developed by BioNTech SE and Pfizer Inc. that is the more popular choice in Hong Kong, will expire in a few months if residents don’t use up the hundreds of thousands of doses in storage. People can also choose CoronaVac from China’s Sinovac Biotech Ltd.

The abundance of vaccines in Hong Kong is a luxury enjoyed by only a few other, mostly wealthy, populations. Many countries are in dire need of extra shots.

Large numbers of people from the U.K. and the U.S. also remain hesitant to get vaccinated, though take-up rates in both countries have been far higher. In the U.S., Anheuser-Busch has promised a free beer to American adults over the age of 21 if the goal of getting 70% of the population partially vaccinated is reached. Krispy Kreme said Tuesday that it has given away 1.5 million doughnuts to vaccinated Americans.

Some of the most attractive prizes, though, are being offered by U.S. states. New York’s Vax and Scratch program gives away state lottery scratch-off tickets, dangling a grand prize of $5 million.

In addition to cash prizes for adults, Ohio’s Vax-a-Million campaign has drawings for four-year full-ride scholarships to any Ohio state colleges or universities for those ages 12-17 who have received a first dose. All Californians 12 and older who are at least partially vaccinated are automatically eligible for cash-prize drawings, with $1.5 million each being awarded to 10 Californians on June 15.

In Hong Kong, many people had preferred to wait and see before getting inoculated, given the city’s success in containing outbreaks. As of Friday, the city had recorded no local infections in more than a month. In recent days, daily vaccine bookings have jumped. On Thursday, 37,900 signed up online to receive their shots, compared with 12,900 two weeks earlier.

Francis Lam, a 72-year-old retired salesman, was one of the people who had been hesitant. But the incentives add appeal to the reassurance he feels from seeing his friends get either vaccine. He has booked his first shot for next week.

“I would have had to get the vaccine sooner or later," Mr. Lam said. “The chance to get some free money is a perk, too, though of course I wouldn’t have gambled with my health just to enter some lucky draw."

The vaccination drive is crucial to Hong Kong’s near-term economic future. It is at risk of being shut off from the world for a long time because of its goal of zero infections. Strict quarantine rules make it unappealing for tourists and business people who once arrived by the millions monthly. Nonresidents have largely been barred from the city for most of the pandemic.

As more companies joined the giveaways, the government set up a hotline to provide assistance on how to quickly get license to roll out drawings.

One of the city’s biggest developers, Swire Properties Ltd., said Tuesday that it is offering about $1 million in drawings for shopping sprees at its luxury malls in Hong Kong. Sister company Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd. is offering a private in-flight party on a new Airbus aircraft and giving away 20 million miles.

“We want to help our staff, help our tenants and help the people of Hong Kong with the aim of getting our city back on track," said Guy Bradley, Swire Properties’ chief executive officer.

The philanthropic arm of Sino Group and Chinese Estates Holdings Ltd. is offering a new one-bedroom apartment as the grand prize for a drawing for the vaccinated. It said the value would be about $1.3 million.

The city’s financial regulator issued a circular Wednesday urging licensed corporations to consider Covid-19 vaccinations a critical part of risk management. Companies should identify functions that are essential to their business operations and encourage staff performing such functions to get vaccinated, it said.

uSmart Securities, an online brokerage, said it is giving out shares in Sino Biopharmaceutical Ltd. and Pfizer— worth about $38—to new clients who have gotten the shots.

The government, the city’s biggest employer, said Monday that all vaccinated civil servants would get an extra paid day off for each dose they receive, prompting private companies to do similar. It said that all its initiatives take into account that there are people who have medical reasons not to get vaccinated.

Despite all this, Jaxo Cheung, a 25-year-old waitress in the city, said she has no plans to get the injection. As a supporter of the antigovernment protests that gripped the city in 2019, Ms. Cheung said, she neither trusted the government nor wanted to give it the satisfaction of cooperation.

Even after losing a job when her employer required staff to have at least one injection so that it could extend its operating hours under Hong Kong’s Covid-19 rules, she remained undeterred.

Though incentives have swayed some people with similar political beliefs, “I don’t care," she said. “I will never get the vaccine; it’s the way I can keep on protesting."

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