Editorial : Risk of a recurrence of the outbreak

【明報專訊】THE COVID-19 outbreak is easing in many nations, and their governments are starting to relax anti-pandemic measures. However, the difficulty of preventing a recurrence of the outbreak cannot be underestimated. In Germany, the infection rates have risen since some of the social restriction measures were lifted. Wuhan has seen new community infections one month after its reopening, while more than a hundred people from the night club cluster in South Korea have been infected. In Hong Kong, a woman is said to have preliminarily tested positive for the virus as the city has kept a clean sheet for more than half a month.

The outbreak has been easing in Hong Kong for some time. According to experts in disease control, the ideal situation will be Hong Kong having zero cases of infection for 28 days (two incubation periods) in a row, in which case the outbreak can be said to be under control. In Europe and America, there are countries which record hundreds of diagnoses or deaths every day but cannot wait to ease restrictions when the statistics show the slightest hint of the outbreak slowing down, let alone waiting for 28 days. Few countries are as strict as Hong Kong. Hong Kong had not had a local infection for 23 days in a row, just several days shy of two incubation periods (28 days). What was unexpected, however, was that a new suspected infection would emerge yesterday (May 12). A woman in her sixties who had not travelled recently tested positive. The result has to be confirmed by the Centre for Health Protection.

It is unlikely for the COVID-19 pandemic to disappear overnight. As some patients are asymptomatic, the virus could be lurking in the communities. Local experts in disease prevention also admit the difficulty of having zero cases for 28 days in such circumstances. It will no doubt be regrettable if the woman in her sixties is confirmed to have caught the virus, ending Hong Kong's caseless streak when it was on its way to the target of 28 days of no infection. But it is not a time to be dejected. Many experts believe that sporadic local infections are almost unavoidable following the relaxation of anti-pandemic measures. Society as a whole should take the recurrence of a local infection case as a warning sign. It must not lower its guard just because the outbreak is easing. As for whether it is necessary for the government to slow down its pace of the relaxation of anti-pandemic measures, it should keep a close watch on the developments, step up virus testing and trace people in potential contact with the patient. It should check whether there are obvious signs that the outbreak is spreading before making a decision.

The 10-day campaign in Wuhan illustrates that the top priority in disease control is to identify and quarantine patients as soon as possible. It is necessary to be able to do a good job of testing and tracking people in close contact with patients before anti-pandemic measures are relaxed. The recurrence of the outbreak in South Korea accentuates the risk of transmission in venues such as night clubs. The government's difficulty in tracing and testing is to a large extent due to some customers' reluctance to disclose that they have patronised the homosexual bar in question. Hong Kong should take note of what has happened in other regions. It must not relax restrictions on high-risk venues rashly and must at the same time carefully identify loopholes that South Korea has encountered.

明報社評2020.05.13:疫情復發風險難低估 借鑑外地經驗防反覆







streak : a series of successes or failures

accentuate : to emphasise sth or make it more noticeable

patronise : to be a regular customer of a shop / store, restaurant, etc.

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