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Hong Kong widens vaccine scheme to people over 30, domestic helpers

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HONG KONG, March 15 (Reuters) - Hong Kong authorities said on Monday that the city's vaccine scheme would be widened to include those aged between 30-60 years old and domestic helpers, as they aim to increase take up amongst residents in the Asian financial hub.

People have been relatively slow to come forward for vaccination since Hong Kong began unrolling its programme in February, starting with a vaccine made by China's Sinovac Biotech Ltd. The Pfizer/BioNTtech vaccine was added earlier this month.

Around 190,000 people have received their first vaccination dose, around 2.5% of the city's population.

At least six people have died and several fallen seriously ill after receiving a vaccination by China's Sinovac. The government said no direct link was established between the the vaccine and the first two deaths, while the other deaths were still being analysed.

Health Secretary Sophia Chan told a news briefing that the city faced a critical moment in controlling COVID-19 and that vaccinating Hong Kong’s 7.5 million residents would help resume normality and relax social distancing measures.

The widening of the scheme will enable around 5 million residents to be vaccinated, she said.

"I urge members of the public to get vaccinated as soon as possible to protect yourself and others and increase inoculation rates," she said.

The U.S. Consulate said on Monday two employees had tested positive for COVID-19 and the office had been closed for disinfection, with contact tracing under way.

While the pair do not work in offices that interact with the public, services for U.S. citizens and visa applicants would be cancelled on Tuesday and Wednesday, it added.

The consulate said it has abided by all Hong Kong government requirements for the arrival, testing and quarantine of all diplomatic personnel and their families since the start of the pandemic.

The former British colony has recorded around 11,200 total coronavirus cases, far lower than other developed cities. (Reporting by Farah Master and Anne Marie Roantree Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)