No jab, no bed

Top News | Carine Chow and Jane Cheung 14 May 2021

Fully vaccinated students at the Chinese University of Hong Kong are first in line for dormitory allocations, as the institute will require un-vaccinated student hostel residents to have Covid-19 tests every two weeks in the new school year starting September.

The CUHK's move was revealed after a student posted on Facebook on Wednesday an e-mail sent by one of the university's nine colleges about the new vaccine passport requirement.

CUHK confirmed the new arrangement yesterday, saying it strongly advises students planning to live in dorms to get fully vaccinated.

"Students who have been inoculated will be waived from regular tests," it said.

"Un-vaccinated students who do not comply with regular tests will not be arranged to live in halls. The university, its nine colleges and post-graduate hostel will send e-mails to all students to notify them of the new health advice for the new school year starting in September."

Competition for the Sha Tin university's halls has always been keen, with students fighting for beds based on their extra-curricular activities and distance between their homes and the school. But this year vaccination will become an additional worry.

The student shared the e-mail from one college on Facebook page "CUHK Secrets" on Wednesday: "2021-2022 hostel room assignments will have to be made based on vaccination status.

"Fully vaccinated students will be prioritized. If space allows, unvaccinated students will room with other unvaccinated students and their access to common spaces may be limited," the student said.

Sources said the university's postgraduate hall office has also sent an e-mail to residents asking those who are not vaccinated to pay HK$200 for Covid-19 tests every two weeks, or their residency will be cancelled.

Students were divided about the new requirement, with some saying CUHK was forcing students to take the Covid-19 vaccine, while others believe it is necessary to guard against outbreaks in the dormitories.

The university's provisional Student Union president, Edward Ma Wood-yin, said living in a hostel is one of the basic rights of students and adding unnecessary requirements would deprive them of access to hall services.

"Students were not consulted beforehand," he said. "If this is what they have decided to do, they should subsidize students for the tests. Don't put financial burden on students."

A second-year student resident from Shaw College said: "This is clearly the university's passive-aggressive way of making us get the jab."

He said he is looking to return to the hall after the summer holiday and would opt for regular tests.

"I have no confidence in the vaccines. As long as there is an alternative option, I'm not taking it," he said.

A Year Four education student surnamed Lam, who used to live at Woo Sing College, said: "It's unreasonable to ask hostel residents to do testing every two weeks or get vaccinated. As long as students maintain good personal hygiene, there's no way CUHK can intervene."

But a Year Four student from the United College surnamed Tsang said she did not care about the new vaccination policy as she did not plan to apply for hostels.

"I think that is reasonable because any outbreak in hospital or student hostels would be disastrous. I know some really do not want to get vaccinated, but we have no choice because it is even more troublesome to get tested every two weeks," she said.

Others said vaccination will protect the students, with one master's degree student, who studied for his undergraduate degree in the United States, saying his alma mater had required all students and staff to get the shot before the new school year, "regardless whether they are Republican or Democrat."

On Monday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the State University of New York and the City University of New York would require all students attending in-person classes this autumn to be fully jabbed, if the federal government grants full approval to any of the three vaccines now in emergency use in the United States.

However, other major universities in the SAR, including the University of Hong Kong, the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Hong Kong Baptist University, City University of Hong Kong and the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, said they do not have similar vaccination requirements for residents of student hostels.

Meanwhile, SAR authorities have proposed waiving inoculated front line staff from weekly Covid-19 tests to encourage public servants to take the jab to fulfill public expectations and protect their own health.

At the moment, staffers who work at quarantine facilities, Food and Environmental Hygiene Department inspectors and Immigration Department officers helping with contact tracing are required to test weekly.

But the chairman of the Federation of Civil Service Unions, Leung Chau-ting, said the new arrangement resulted in a lukewarm response as many employees were worried about the side effects of the vaccines.

He suggested setting a date for inoculation at each department, and allowing employees to take a day off after that. Authorities should also be specific on the types of front line staff targeted in the new arrangement.

By Wednesday, 1.11 million citizens had taken at least one dose of vaccine, with 489,900 taking the Beijing-made Sinovac and 622,300 the German-made BioNTech/Fosun. Among the 1.11 million, 718,700 have completed both doses at a 17 percent uptake rate.

Editorial: CUHK makes smart vaccine move

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