英文

Editorial : Prepare for COVID-19 becoming endemic

【明報專訊】THE WORLD is being ravaged by the novel coronavirus. According to official statistics compiled by different nations, the virus has claimed more than 300,000 lives around the globe. Experts from the WHO warn that the novel coronavirus might be here to stay forever, just like HIV.

A new case of local infection has emerged in Hong Kong. Health officials say that it remains to be seen how the outbreak will develop, and the possibility of sporadic cases cannot be ruled out. The public might have to accept that they will coexist with the virus for a long time. Michael Ryan, Executive Director of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme, has also mentioned recently that it might be impossible to exterminate the novel coronavirus, and that it might become endemic and never disappear as is the case for AIDS. Ryan says that some countries that have seen outbreaks of the disease are beginning to relax the restrictions, which he says must be handled very carefully lest a new outbreak should happen.

HIV originated from chimpanzees in Western Africa. Tracing its origins, scientists believe that it was transmitted to humans in the early 20th century, most probably through hunting. It entered the US in the 1970s and spread gradually. Through in-depth research, scientists discovered this "virus of the century" in the 1980s. Thanks to decades of hard work, it can be said that scientists have found relatively effective ways of inhibiting HIV in the human body. However, there is still not an "antidote" to the virus, nor is there a vaccine that works. The most effective means of prevention remains the avoidance of unsafe sex and the sharing of syringes.

By comparing the novel coronavirus with HIV, WHO officials mean to remind the public to be prepared for coexistence with the disease. As humans are able to coexist with HIV, they can also find ways to coexist with the novel coronavirus. Looking at the matter from another angle, however, we have to understand that science cannot do everything and the fight against the novel coronavirus might not be smooth. The novel coronavirus might not be as deadly as AIDS in the 1980s when it first broke out, but it is obviously much less preventable than HIV given its ways of transmission. Before there is an effective treatment or a vaccine, the most effective ways of prevention remain a change in behaviour, social distancing and maintenance of personal hygiene.

No doubt a change of behaviour and modes of social operation can come at a huge cost. To control the disease, many countries have imposed stringent social restriction measures, dealing a heavy blow to the economy. As soon as the outbreak eases, albeit mildly, some countries cannot wait to lift anti-pandemic measures. In the US, cases rise by tens of thousands every day, but the White House and many states are wasting no time in restarting the economy. In Europe, many countries are also preparing to liberate the tourism industry and relax border restrictions.

To cope with the impact of the pandemic, the government has allocated nearly $300 billion to prop up the economy and save jobs. If the pandemic continues protractedly, the economy downturn persists, government income decreases sharply while expenditure on fighting the pandemic and saving the economy increases incessantly, the Hong Kong government, which unlike the US cannot solve such problems by printing money, must plan ahead as soon as possible and contemplate how to deal with different scenarios.

明報社評2020.05.15:新冠肺炎恐變風土病 抗疫見步行步非良策

新型冠狀病毒肆虐,根據各國官方統計,全球病故人數累計突破30萬,世衛專家警告,新冠病毒有可能像愛滋病毒一樣,永遠無法根絕。

香港再現源頭不明本地感染個案,衛生官員指出,疫情變化仍待觀察,不排除不時再有零星個案,市民可能要接受長期與病毒共存。近日世衛緊急項目執行主任瑞安亦提到,新冠病毒恐怕無法完全根除,有可能成為風土病,像愛滋病一樣永遠不會消失。瑞安指出,部分爆疫國家開始解除封鎖措施,處理必須非常小心,否則有可能出現新一波疫情。

愛滋病毒源於西非黑猩猩,科學家追源溯本,相信病毒早在20世紀初已傳給人類,最大可能是經由打獵感染。直至1970年代愛滋病傳入美國,漸漸蔓延開來,科學家深入研究,始於1980年代發現這一世紀病毒。經過數十年努力,科學家總算找到較為有效的方法,遏制人體內的愛滋病毒,然而至今仍然未有「解藥」,也沒有可行的疫苗,最有效的預防方法,仍是避免不安全性行為及共用針筒。

世衛官員將新冠病毒與愛滋病毒相提並論,用意是提醒公眾做好心理準備「與疫共存」,既然人類能與愛滋病毒共活,一樣有方法與新冠病毒共存。可是換個角度看,人們亦要明白,科學並非萬能,與新冠病毒的戰鬥,未必一帆風順。新冠病毒也許未如愛滋病1980年代爆發時般致命,可是其傳播方式顯然比愛滋病毒更難提防,在未有特效藥或疫苗前,最有效的預防方法,仍是改變行為模式,留意社交距離,做好個人衛生。

當然,改變行為習慣和社會運作模式,要付出相當大的代價。多國為了控制疫情,採取嚴厲社交限制措施,經濟打擊沉重,只要疫情稍稍放緩,部分國家已急不及待「解封」防疫措施。美國每天新增病例仍然數以萬計,可是白宮和多個州份已急不及待重啟經濟;在歐洲,多國亦準備逐步解封旅遊業,放寬邊境限制。

港府為了應付疫情衝擊,已投入近3000億元撐經濟保就業,倘若疫情曠日持久,經濟不景持續,庫房收入大減,抗疫救市開支卻在不斷增加,港府無法像美國靠印銀紙解決問題,必須及早未雨綢繆,思考不同可能情景下的應對處理。

■Glossary

生字

endemic : If a disease or illness is endemic in a place, it is frequently found among the people who live there.

originate : to happen or appear for the first time in a particular place or situation

albeit : although

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