Chinese travelers ready to flock abroad for Western mRNA vaccines

Passengers prepare to enter Shenzhen through the Lok Ma Chau branch line checkpoint on the first day of the resumption of normal travel between Hong Kong and mainland China on January 8, 2023 in Hong Kong.

Li Zhihua | China Information Service | Getty Images

Mainland China’s abandonment of its zero Covid policy has led to a sharp rise in infections, and the resumption of travel means some are looking further afield for vaccines.

As of mid-December, the full Covid vaccination rate in China stood at nearly 87%, with an increase of 54%. The main Covid vaccines approved for use in China come from Sinovac and Sinopharm.

Mainlanders have flocked to Macao in recent months for Western mRNA vaccines, which are widely administered around the world but not approved by China.

But even if patients were trying to book appointments as early as mid-December, the next available slots at Macau University of Science and Technology Hospital, the only place offering shots to tourists, are as late as in February.

Analysts expect the list of vaccine tourism destinations to grow.

“First natural destination”: Hong Kong

“I believe the first natural destination for Chinese vaccine tourism is Hong Kong. It will then spread to Asia and the United States, maybe spread to Europe,” Sam Radwan told CNBC. Chairman of management consulting firm Enhance International.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve been to Hong Kong. I can take a vacation, in addition to getting vaccinated. Won’t that kill two birds with one stone? Without saying more, I have made an appointment and I’m getting ready,” he added. a man from Shaanxi province posted on Chinese social media site Weibo on Friday.

Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee told a press briefing in late December that the city “has reached a relatively high vaccination rate”, adding that it has a “sufficient amount of drugs to fight the Covid”.

But Hong Kong will not provide free Covid vaccines to short-term travellers.

“We want to prevent visitors from coming to Hong Kong to use vaccines at the expense of Hong Kong residents and we will not offer government-purchased vaccines to non-Hong Kong residents free of charge,” government officials said. from Hong Kong, adding that visitors must stay at least 30 days to receive a booster shot.

Our recent study suggests that Hong Kong and Thailand could benefit the most from the international tourism channel if China removes visa restrictions and outbound travel gradually normalizes

Expect to see a wave of mainlanders traveling to Hong Kong to get vaccinated, 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 who wanted to know how relatives from mainland China could get vaccinated in Hong Kong, he reportedly said.

Thailand is another viable destination for vaccinated tourists, and the country ranks among the top destinations Chinese people want to travel to, including Japan, South Korea, the United States and Singapore.

In late December, Thailand’s tourism and sports minister said he was considering offering free vaccines to foreign tourists who request booster shots.

And there is the interest of the Chinese.

“At first, I didn’t plan to go to Thailand, but for the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, I’m thinking of going,” a Shanghai-based Weibo user said during the announcement.

Another Weibo user residing in Beijing wrote that such a policy move would not only “help attract tourists to Thailand”, but also provide more variety for inoculation. “For mainland Chinese who are hoping for more vaccine options, they can get vaccinated with whatever shots they want. Win-win.”

“Getting out of China is definitely a big medicine in the minds of many…I think the Chinese will travel wherever they can get the drugs,” said Sam Radwan, president of management consultancy Enhance International.

CFOTO | Edition of the future | Getty Images

“On the ripple effects of China’s reopening, our recent study suggests that Hong Kong and Thailand could benefit the most from the international tourism channel if China removes visa restrictions and outbound travel increases. are gradually normalizing,” Goldman Sachs wrote in a Dec. 27 research note.

“Getting out of China is definitely a big medicine in the minds of many…I think the Chinese will travel wherever they can get the medicine,” said Radwan of Enhancer International.

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