New guidelines for civil servants have already led to a rise in daily vaccinations, health authorities indicated today (Thursday).
The Public Administration and Civil Service Bureau (SAFP) recently issued an order to the public sector mandating that after September 27 public workers will have to choose between being vaccinated for Covid-19 or have to carry out nucleic acid testing every 7 days.
The order covers public workers who have regular contact during their work or that work in closed spaces with other people.
Upon entering the workplace, all workers in the Public Administration must present proof of vaccination against COVID-19 or, alternatively, a negative nucleic acid test certificate issued in the last seven days, and any absence from service due to the non-presentation of the aforementioned certified will be defined as an unjustified absence.
Nucleic acid tests must be carried out after office hours and expenses must be borne out by public servants themselves, however, payment will be waived for workers with a medical certificate proving that their health conditions do not allow for vaccination.
Time taken out from work to carry out vaccination will be considered as a justified absence.
“In the past two days, an average of 3,000-4,000 people were vaccinated every day, compared with the average in the past week. The number of vaccinations increased by 2,000, and the number of appointments has increased from 2,000 per day to a maximum of 10,000,” Dr. Leong
However, the policy has led to opposition from public servants, who have issued complaints that the guideline ‘indirectly’ forces them to get inoculated or contesting why vaccinated workers are not requested to undergo testing.
“In terms of risk management we cant eliminate completely the risk, we can only reduce risk. We know that just because someone is vaccinated doesn’t mean they cant get infected but the risk is reduced […] This guideline still follows the voluntary principle for vaccination,” Novel Coronavirus Response and Coordination Centre Coordinator Dr. Leong Iek Hou said during today’s pandemic update press conference.
Yesterday, Health Bureau Director Dr. Alvis Lo Iek Long already said that civil servants “should lead” the vaccination efforts since public services are serving the entire population and the safety of their workplace environment must be ensured.
According to the most recent update, a total of 332,204, people in Macau have been vaccinated with at least a dose of either Sinopharm or BioNTech vaccines, about half of the local population, a percentage deemed “insufficient” by health authorities.
The Health Bureau also revealed that as of September 14 the vaccination rate for Macau workers aged between 20 and 60 years reached 67.7 per cent, with about 100,000 still needing to get the jab.
Dr. Leong underlined that after the first dose public servants will already be exempted from carrying out the tests and that in order to obtain a medical exemption for the vaccine, an evaluation before a vaccine appointment is required.
“The resident needs to make a vaccine appointment, go to a health centre, like the Conde S. Januario Public Hospital, and carry out a health evaluation by a medical professional. If the professional considers the person is not able to take the vaccine he will issue an exemption certificate,” Dr. Leong added.
The Health Bureau representative also stated that pregnant civil employees were currently not recommended to get the jab, unless they plan to go to areas of high pandemic risk.
Meanwhile, women who have given birth and are breastfeeding or women planning to get pregnant can still get it.
“We will create a list of pregnant women works and follow those cases. Pregnant women in private companies should carry out an external check-up to receive a certificate,” Dr. Leong noted.
“Those breastfeeding can also have the vaccine, it has been more than 8 months since vaccination started and more than 5.6 billion vaccinations were carried out worldwide. We have more than enough data that the Sinopharm and BioNTech vaccines are safe for them”
Dr. Leong indicated that some residents are afraid of secondary effects following vaccination, while some believe they are not allowed to do it because of health issues.
“That is why we recommend a medical evaluation, some people think because they are diabetic or have hypertension they can’t take it, or have chronic diseases. None of these conditions bars people from taking the vaccine,” she added.
The medical expert noted that regions in the world such as Singapore or Portugal where vaccination rates were close to 90 per cent were already “learning how to live with the virus” had high vaccination rates of elderly people or people suffering from chronic illnesses.
“It is s important for people with chronicle diseases to get vaccinated […] Only after we get most of the population vaccinated, we will be able to start lifting restrictions,” Dr. Leong added.
The new guideline comes after an expert delegation from the National Health Commission visited the Macau SAR and urged health authorities to understand the reasons why citizens do not get vaccinated, increase targeted vaccination campaigns and promote vaccination through community mobilization.
After the visit health authorities vowed they would focus on introducing measures to motivate key groups such as medical staff, frontline border workers, civil servants, and school staff to get vaccinated.