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Chinese travelers able to flock overseas for Western mRNA vaccines

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Passengers prepare to enter Shenzhen through the Lok Ma Chau Spur Line Control Point on the primary day of the resumption of normal travel between Hong Kong and mainland China on Jan. 8, 2023 in Hong Kong.

Li Zhihua | China News Service | Getty Images

Mainland China’s move away from its zero-Covid policy has led to a pointy surge in infections, and the resumption of travel means some are looking farther afield for vaccines. 

In mid-December, China’s full Covid vaccination rate stood near 87%, with 54% boosted. The most important Covid vaccines approved to be used in China are from Sinovac and Sinopharm.

Mainlanders have been flocking to Macao in recent months for Western mRNA vaccines, that are widely administered world wide but not endorsed by China. 

But even when patients attempted booking an appointment as early as mid-December, the next available slots on the Macau University of Science and Technology Hospital, the one location offering jabs to tourists, are as late as February.

Analysts expect that the list of destinations for vaccine tourism will grow.

‘Natural first destination’: Hong Kong

“I think that the natural first destination of the Chinese vaccine tourism is Hong Kong. It is going to then spread to Asia and the U.S., possibly extend to Europe,” Sam Radwan, president of management consultancy Enhance International, told CNBC.

“It has been long since I went to Hong Kong. I can take a vacation, in addition to get vaccinated. Won’t this be killing two birds with one stone? Without saying further, I actually have made my appointment and am preparing,” a person from Shaanxi province posted Friday on Chinese social media website Weibo.

Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee said in a press briefing in late December that the town “has reached a comparatively high vaccination rate,” adding that it has a “sufficient amount of medication to fight Covid.”

But Hong Kong won’t provide free Covid vaccinations to short-term travelers.

“We wish to stop visitors coming to Hong Kong to make use of the vaccines on the expense of Hong Kong people and we won’t offer government procured vaccines freed from charge to non Hong Kong residents,” Hong Kong’s government officials said, adding that visitors need to stay a minimum of 30 days to receive a booster shot.

Our recent study suggests Hong Kong and Thailand may profit essentially the most from the international tourism channel if China removes visa restrictions and outbound travel regularly normalizes

Expect to see a wave of mainlanders traveling to Hong Kong to get their jabs, said Lam Wingho, a member of Hong Kong’s Scientific Committee on Vaccine-Preventable Diseases, in response to a local media report.

Lin said he received a gentle stream of inquiries from residents who desired to understand how relatives from mainland China could get vaccinated in Hong Kong, he was reported as saying.

Thailand is one other viable destination for vaccine tourists, and the country ranks among the many top destinations that the Chinese are keen on traveling to, which include Japan, South Korea, the U.S. and Singapore.

Thailand’s Tourism and Sports Minister in late December said 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 for the sake of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, I’m considering of going,” a Weibo user based in Shanghai said upon the announcement.

One other Weibo user residing in Beijing wrote that such a policy move wouldn’t only “help attract tourists to Thailand,” but in addition offer more variety for inoculation. “For mainland Chinese who’re hoping for more vaccine options, they’ll have the opportunity to get vaccinated with the jabs they need. Win-win.”

“Going outside of China is unquestionably an enormous treatment on the minds of loads … I think that the Chinese will travel wherever they’ll get the drugs,” said Sam Radwan, president of management consultancy Enhance International.

CFOTO | Future Publishing | Getty Images

“On the spillover effects of China reopening, our recent study suggests Hong Kong and Thailand may profit essentially the most from the international tourism channel if China removes visa restrictions and outbound travel regularly normalizes,” Goldman Sachs wrote in a research note dated Dec. 27.

“Going outside of China is unquestionably an enormous treatment on the minds of loads … I think that the Chinese will travel wherever they’ll get the drugs,” Enhance International’s Radwan said.

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