英文

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

多國疫情放緩,開始放寬防疫措施,然而防範疫情捲土重來,難度不能低估。德國撤銷部分社交限制後感染率上升、武漢解封一個月後再現社區感染個案、韓國夜店感染群組過百人確診,無不反映疫情復發風險。香港本地感染「清零」大半個月後,昨天亦傳出疑有婦人初步確診的消息。

香港疫情放緩已有一段時間,根據防疫專家說法,最理想是做到連續28日(即兩個潛伏期)本地「零確診」,疫情便算正式受控。放眼歐美,部分國家即使每天仍有百計確診甚或死亡病例,只要數據稍稍顯示疫情有放緩迹象,已經急不及待「解封」防疫措施重啟經濟,遑論等足28日,像香港般嚴格辦事的反而是少數。香港連續23天未有本地感染病例,距離兩個潛伏期(合計28日)「清零」目標只差數天,未料昨天卻傳出懷疑再有本地感染個案,一名沒有外遊紀錄的六旬婦人初步確診,最終結果有待衛生防護中心確認。

COVID-19全球大流行,不會一時三刻消失,部分感染者沒有病徵,意味病毒有可能潛伏於社區,本地防疫專家亦承認,今次疫情下要做到28天零確診,有一定難度。倘若六旬婦人最終證實確診,28天「清零」目標臨門一腳「斷纜」,無疑令人遺憾,惟現在並非氣餒時候。不少專家認為,隨着防疫措施放寬,出現零星本地個案,幾乎無可避免。社會上下應將本地感染病例再現,視作警報鈴聲,不能因為疫情緩和掉以輕心,至於當局是否需要放慢防疫措施「鬆綁」步伐,應該先繼續留意事態發展,加強病毒檢測和追蹤潛在接觸者,看看疫情有沒有明顯擴散迹象,再行定斷。

武漢「十天大會戰」計劃,突顯疫情防控首務仍是早發現早隔離,若要放寬防疫措施,必須確保有能力做好病毒檢測及追蹤密切接觸者。韓國疫情復發,則突顯了夜店等場所的播毒風險,當局在追蹤和檢測方面遇到不少障礙,一大原因是部分顧客不願透露自己到過爆疫的同性戀酒吧。香港應汲取其他地方的經驗教訓,不能輕率放寬高風險場所的規管,同時亦要細心留意會否像韓國般存在「防疫死穴」。

■Glossary

生字

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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