Latest update to Vaccine Pass Arrangements – what an employer should know
On 21 February 2022, the Food and Health Bureau issued a vaccine pass direction pursuant to the Prevention and Control of Disease (Vaccine Pass) Regulation (Cap. 599L) (Regulation) and provided further information on the vaccine pass arrangements which will take effect on 24 February 2022.
(For more details on the vaccine pass arrangements, including the different stages of implementation and the relevant exemptions, please refer to a high level summary table that we have prepared, which can be accessed here.)
The Government has confirmed that certain scheduled premises (ie shopping malls, department stores, supermarkets and markets) will be subject to “passive checking”, whilst other scheduled premises1 will be subject to “active checking”. In addition, regardless of whether a scheduled premises is subject to passive or active checking, the person in charge2 of such premises will be expected to collect and retain the vaccination records and/or medical exemption certificates of its employees for inspection on the request of an authorised officer.
The Government has set up a dedicated website on the vaccine pass arrangements which can be accessed here. The Government has also published a table summarising the obligations of the persons in charge which can be found here and an FAQ for persons in charge which can be found here.
Employers which do not operate a scheduled premises but operate within a scheduled premises
(Updated on 4 March 2022) The updated FAQ for persons in charge published by the Government clarifies that employees of an employer which does not operate a scheduled premises but operates within a scheduled premises (eg a retailer or a bank which operates a store or a branch within a shopping mall or a department store) are not required to comply with the vaccination requirements under the vaccine pass arrangements (by reason that travelling to and from the workplace is considered as a reasonable excuse for entering or passing through a scheduled premises without complying with the relevant vaccination requirements). Such employer may rely on the updated FAQ to take the position that:
- its employees who work in any store or branch within a scheduled premises are not required to comply with the relevant vaccination requirements; and
- it is not required to collect and retain the vaccination records and/or medical exemption certificates of such employees.
Additional points to note for authorised institutions
Authorised institutions (AIs) should also take note of the following recommendation by and requirements of the Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA), as set out in its circular on vaccination and vaccine pass arrangements dated 18 February 2022:
- AIs are strongly encouraged to consider implementing vaccine pass arrangements in their workplace which is appropriate to their settings and operational needs – specifically, employees should be required to present proof of vaccination for at least one dose of vaccine before entering the workplace; employees who are unfit for vaccination due to medical reasons should provide a valid medical certificate and be required to undergo regular testing;
- AIs are required to inform the HKMA on whether the abovementioned vaccine pass arrangements will be implemented and the planned date of implementation by 4 March 2022 (if any AIs decide not to implement such arrangements, details of the relevant considerations must be provided); and
- AIs are required to strongly encourage eligible employees to receive the third dose of vaccine and should provide adequate facilitating measures, such as vaccination leave.
Re-opening of scheduled premises (updated on 29 March 2022)
On 21 March 2022, the Government announced that from 21 April 2022, social distancing measures will be eased in three phases over three months as follows, subject to Hong Kong maintaining a downward trend of COVID-19 cases (although vaccine pass arrangements and relevant mask mandates will continue to apply):
- Phase 1: Reopening of fitness centres, beauty parlours, sports premises, museums, performance venues and libraries under the Leisure & Cultural Services Department
- Phase 2: Reopening of bars and pubs, party rooms, karaoke establishments and public beaches
- Phase 3: Lifting of restrictions on the maximum number of customers, business and dine-in hours, number of people per group gathering at all catering and scheduled premises
The Government has yet to announce further information on how these phases will be determined and the exact timing of each phase.
1 These include catering business premises, bars and pubs, amusement game centres, bathhouses, fitness centres, places of amusement, places of public entertainment, party rooms, beauty parlours, clubhouses, clubs / nightclubs, karaoke establishments, mahjong-tin kau premises, massage establishments, sports premises, swimming pools, cruise ships, event premises, hair salons / barber shops and religious premises.
2 This is defined in the Regulation to mean a person who is responsible for the management or is in charge or control of a scheduled premises.