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Hong Kong parents rush to vaccinate young children as Covid surges

Parents in Hong Kong rushed children as young as three to vaccination centers this week as the government lowered the age limit for vaccines and the death of two toddlers heightened concerns in a struggling city to deal with an increase in Covid cases.

The government allowed children aged three and above to take the Chinese Sinovac vaccine from February 15, while those aged five and above can take the BioNTech vaccine.

The measures come as the Chinese territory has recorded a 60-fold increase in infections since February 1, overwhelming hospitals and testing facilities.

A three-year-old and a four-year-old, both diagnosed with coronavirus, died last week. Authorities said they were “saddened” by the deaths and would offer assistance to the children’s families.

At a vaccination center in the Northern District of the New Territories on Friday, long queues formed early in the morning as parents and children braved wet and windy weather before being allowed inside for vaccinations. .

Dozens of children were bundled up in jackets, some hugging their parents as they queued. All wore masks, while some also had plastic face shields.

“I was extremely worried when I heard the news of the death of a child aged three and four. So I immediately made an appointment,” Yoki Tsang, who has two boys aged three and five.

“It’s heartbreaking to hear that the child died like this,” she said as she waited with her three-year-old outside the centre.

The rush to vaccinate children comes as hospitals across the city are overflowing, with elderly people and children on beds in cold, rainy parking lots. Isolation facilities are full, while thousands of people line up for hours outside testing locations.

Chinese President Xi Jinping this week told Hong Kong leaders to control the outbreak as his top priority, with the mainland preparing to help Hong Kong test and build isolation facilities.

Hong Kong reported 3,629 new daily Covid infections on Friday, with an additional 7,600 preliminary positive cases, authorities said.

The city has recorded more than 40,000 infections and about 240 deaths since the start of the pandemic, far fewer than other major cities. However, daily infections are expected to approach 30,000 by the end of March, experts say.

Although 85% of the city’s 7.4 million residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine, around 60% of residents over the age of 80 are still unvaccinated. About 12% of children aged 3 to 11 have received a vaccine, according to government data.

Health authorities have identified the elderly and young children as high risk, encouraging vaccinations.

Some parents have pushed for their children to be isolated at home rather than sent to a hospital or government quarantine facility because of the difficulty of caring for them and the emotional toll of being apart.

Over the past two years, infants and toddlers have been separated from their parents after being infected, resulting in a heartbreaking and traumatic experience, some residents said. The government has since declared that a parent is allowed to accompany their children.

Joe Wong, 41, said he used to worry about his six-year-old daughter getting vaccinated but has changed his mind.

“We are all worried that something will happen to her,” he said. “I hope she will have more protection after being vaccinated.”

Reuters


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