英文

Editorial : Mandatory testing

【明報專訊】The pandemic seems to be worsening in Hong Kong, deeply worrying disease control experts.

Since the end of the long holidays of the Mid-Autumn Festival and the National Day, the number of local infections has continued to increase. Over the past week alone, there have been more than ten cases of unknown sources, some of which have a high viral load. According to estimates by experts at the University of Hong Kong, the real-time effective reproductive number of the virus has risen above 1.0, meaning that a single patient can infect more than one person. This indicates a worsening of the spread of the virus in the communities and a red light for the rebound of the pandemic.

Some bars and restaurants have not fully complied with the pandemic prevention requirements; some have even violated the social gathering ban. There are also cases where infected persons or their close contacts provide false information to conceal their whereabouts, all of which are detrimental to the overall interest of society as a whole. The authorities need to exercise tougher enforcement and increase penalties. Once a business is found to have violated the law, it must be severely punished. If the situation is serious, the penalty should be license suspension, as fines alone might not carry much deterrent effect.

Since the outbreak of the pandemic, the government has tightened and relaxed the prevention measures three times. However, as in most countries and regions, the pandemic rebounds shortly after each relaxation, and the measures need to be tightened again. This makes it difficult for some industries to continue their operations. The oscillation between suspensions and resumptions of classes has had a great impact on students.

Until Hong Kong breaks out of this cycle of the pandemic, social and economic activities will not be sustainable and everyone will suffer. If we do not want this to continue, we will need more vigorous and efficient anti-pandemic measures so as to break free from this cycle. Compulsory testing of high-risk groups based on the trajectory of the pandemic is one of the options to be considered.

Early detection, early isolation and early treatment are the only key to the prevention and control of a pandemic. Virus testing can help identify the chains of transmission in the communities, which is very important for early detection and prevention. Early this year, Hong Kong's virus testing capacity was inadequate. Even if we had wanted to expand the scale of testing, we could not have done so. After the third wave of the pandemic, the testing bottleneck has been eliminated, so we should make good use of the existing capacity.

The government introduced free voluntary testing for taxi drivers in July, but the response was lukewarm. Of the 30,000 to 50,000 active taxi drivers in Hong Kong, only 14,000 eventually participated. Many drivers are worried that they will have to be quarantined after testing positive and this will affect their livelihood, resulting in a low testing rate.

Quite a number of people have suggested that the authorities should make the testing of specific high-risk groups a regular practice by conducting regular tests for taxi drivers, restaurant and hotel staff, nursing home workers and even residents, etc. However, if the testing is not mandatory, it may not be sufficient to attract the participation of these people even if it is free of charge or some incentives are provided.

Apart from targeting specific high-risk industries, mandatory testing should also cover premises, such as markets and housing estates where cases of unknown sources have been found and where hidden chains of transmission have been suspected. However, if the scope of compulsory testing is made too wide, some people will certainly question whether it is necessary and whether it will be too much a nuisance to the public.

明報社評2020.10.09:強制檢測助抗疫 具體執行求精準

本港疫情有惡化趨勢,防疫專家深以為憂。

國慶中秋長假過後,本地感染個案持續增加,單是過去一周已有十多宗源頭不明病例,部分個案病毒量甚高。根據港大專家推算,病毒即時有效繁殖率,已升至超過1的水平,意即一個病人可傳染超過一人,顯示病毒社區蔓延情况惡化,疫情反彈紅燈已經亮起。

一些酒吧食肆沒有做足防疫要求,甚至違反限聚要求,亦有感染者或密切接觸者提供不實資料隱瞞行蹤,凡此種種皆有損社會整體利益,當局有必要加強執法、加重罰則,一旦發現有商戶違規,必須嚴懲,倘若情節嚴重,更應以停牌作為懲罰,光靠罰款未必起到阻嚇作用。

疫情爆發以來,政府防疫措施先後三度收緊三度放寬,然而就像大多數國家及地區,每次放寬不久,疫情便反彈,需要再度收緊,部分行業時停時開,很難經營下去;停課復課反反覆覆,對學生影響也很大。

香港一日無法走出這個疫情迴圈,社會經濟活動就無法可持續復常,人人都受折騰,若不想繼續如此,就必須採取更有力更高效的防疫措施,掙脫迴圈束縛。根據疫情針對高危群組強制檢測,是其中一項值得考慮的做法。

疫情防控離不開早發現、早隔離、早治療,病毒檢測有助找出社區傳播鏈,對及早發現並阻止疫情擴散非常重要。今年初本港病毒檢測能力不足,就算想擴大檢測規模亦有心無力,經過第三波疫情洗禮,檢測瓶頸已打破,好應該善用現有能力。

港府7月推出的士司機自願免費檢測,惟反應平平,全港3萬至5萬名活躍的士司機,最終只有1.4萬人參與,不少司機擔心驗出陽性後要隔離,影響生計,導致檢測率偏低。

不少人主張,當局應將特定高危群組檢測恒常化,定期為的士司機、食肆酒店職員、院舍員工以至院友等做檢測,可是如果檢測不是強制,即使費用全免甚或提供一些誘因,也未必足以令相關人士參與。

強制檢測對象,除了針對特定高危行業,亦應包括一些發現不明源頭病例、疑有隱形傳播鏈的處所,例如街市、屋邨等,可是如果將強制檢測涵蓋範圍定得太闊,必然有人質疑是否有此需要、會否太過擾民。

■Glossary

生字

mandatory : required by law

worsening : the process of becoming or of making sth worse than it was before

nuisance : a thing, person or situation that is annoying or causes trouble or problems

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