Editorial : COVID-19 cases returning to zero

【明報專訊】WITH the third wave of COVID-19 infections going on for more than two months, yesterday (September 15) the number of newly confirmed cases returned to zero domestically at long last. No doubt it is good news that the pandemic is showing signs of being tamed. However, it is still too early to say that the third wave of infections will come to an end soon.

Yesterday there were four new cases in Hong Kong, all of which were imported cases. There were no local infections. This means that since the outbreak of the third wave of the pandemic, the new cases in Hong Kong have "returned to zero" for the first time. This is undoubtedly an inspiring development. But in fact the daily number of newly confirmed cases fluctuates from day to day, so this is absolutely not time for blind optimism. Even if the anti-pandemic measures can be relaxed, no party should take the matter lightly. The third wave of infections in Hong Kong is far more severe than the previous two. One major reason is the large number of infections of unknown sources, which are scattered across various districts and imply the existence of many invisible chains of transmission at community level. In places like South Korea and Singapore, once a large-scale outbreak of the pandemic occurs, it is rare for the number of cases to return to zero even though the pandemic has been tackled with great effort. The daily number of confirmed cases in Singapore has never returned to zero since mid-March. As for South Korea, it has never returned to zero since the outbreak related to the Itaewon cluster in May.

When the number of cases cannot return to zero, it means that invisible chains of transmission exist in the community for a long time. A modest relaxation of anti-pandemic measures could lead to another deterioration of the pandemic. Restarting social and economic activities in such circumstances is definitely risky, and it is difficult to achieve a "sustainable return to normal". After the second wave of the epidemic in Hong Kong ebbed, the number of cases remained at zero for a long time. It remains unknown whether this can be repeated. The next two or three weeks will be crucial.

The pandemic is slowly ebbing away. More than two weeks into the government's relaxation of evening dine-in services, the epidemic has not rebounded significantly. However, it must be pointed out that cases of unknown sources over the past two weeks have still accounted for 20% of the total on average, showing that the risk of transmission in the communities remains.

There was a person who sought medical help four times citing symptoms but was not sent by the doctor to a test. The person was eventually diagnosed through the universal testing scheme. The fight against the pandemic should be a matter of concern for everyone. Private doctors who contact patients on the frontline should be vigilant and assist the entire city in preventing and controlling the pandemic. The universal testing scheme shows that whenever a confirmed case occurs in a certain district, the demand for virus testing among residents in the district will increase significantly. The authorities' arrangements for distributing test bottles for deep throat saliva samples should be made more convenient for the public. As Hong Kong's testing capabilities have been enhanced, the authorities should arrange more frequent regular testing for people working in specific industries and premises including taxi drivers and workers for nursing homes. The third wave of the pandemic remains unpredictable. The reopening of society should be cautious and prudent, and the relaxation of social restrictions must not be too hasty. People in all sectors must exercise stoicism. The Hong Kong government must also do a good job of preventing imported cases from abroad and must not repeat the mistake of exempting sailors from quarantine arrangements.

明報社評2020.09.16:第三波疫情首「歸零」 中秋臨近防疫難鬆








inspiring : exciting and encouraging you to do or feel sth

ebb : to become gradually weaker or less

stoicism : the fact of not complaining or showing what you are feeling when you are suffering

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