Editorial:A half-baked anti-pandemic scheme

【明報專訊】The government has established a legal framework for mandatory COVID-19 virus tests on certain specified groups. A mobile tracing app called ''LeaveHomeSafe'' has also become available for citizens to download. Now the authorities have two new tools to enhance coronavirus testing and contact-tracing. However, the mere presence of tools is not enough for meeting the target of ''zero daily infections in general''. The tools must also be well utilised to achieve that end. Our practical experience has repeatedly shown that the rate of voluntary testing among some of the high-risk groups is low. Disease control experts have advocated compulsory testing to target the problem with accuracy. Now the legal framework is in place, but the authorities are still gazing around hesitantly, saying that the launching time for mandatory testing has yet to be set. Public reception to the ''LeaveHomeSafe'' app on the first day of download was only lukewarm. Citizens were either unaware of the app's existence or critical of the app because too few venues provide a QR code for checking in. The overcautiousness of the authorities and the lack of active co-operation by some of the stakeholders have made Hong Kong's fight against the pandemic good for nothing and made it very hard to achieve good results.

Dark clouds are again looming over the city due to the possible resurgence of the pandemic. The government has tightened social distancing measures once more. Aside from setting stricter limits on the number of people seated together in restaurants and bars, the authorities will also consider including hotels in the regulated venues. For example, a four-person limit may be placed on the number of people allowed to stay in one guest room and so forth. As for the measure of mandatory testing for designated groups, which has been a long time in the making, the authorities have finally established a legal framework. Patients judged by doctors to have symptoms of the virus, people who work or live where there has been an outbreak and people doing high-risk jobs like taxi drivers and nursing home workers are all obligated to do a compulsory test. Those who fail to get tested within the required period or refuse testing can be fined or even jailed.

Hong Kong has failed to achieve a 14-day streak of zero local infection for a long time, a proof that the previous anti-pandemic tools have not been powerful enough. Mandatory testing for specified groups and the launch of the ''LeaveHomeSafe'' app may help compensate the shortfall, but the crux of the matter is how the measures are implemented. As anti-pandemic measures are bound to affect people's daily lives, it is difficult to achieve the great target simply by relying on the voluntary co-operation of individuals. Mandatory requirements of a reasonable extent are inevitable. Since the third wave of outbreaks in July, the authorities have provided three rounds of voluntary testing service to taxi drivers for free, but the participation rates for all the three rounds have been very low. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, a total of 45 taxi drivers have been infected so far.

However, when asked when compulsory testing will be launched, the government only replied that it depends on the pandemic situation and the present participation rate of testing, saying ''If the citizens all take the test self-consciously, we may not need to launch the measure'' and so forth. If the measure of mandatory testing merely has a legal framework but is not to be launched as early as possible, that will be no different from doing nothing at all.

This week, the authorities launched the ''LeaveHomeSafe'' app to help citizens keep a record of their whereabouts. In case anyone is diagnosed with the virus after visiting a place, it will be easier to identify people with suspected contact. However, public reception to the app on the first day was far from eager. The app failed to make it to the top 100 list. Many people either do not know clearly about the app's functions at all or do not know it can be downloaded.

The authorities claim that nearly 10,000 venues have participated in the ''LeaveHomeSafe'' scheme and they provide QR codes for citizens to scan voluntarily to keep a record of their entry into and departure from the venues. However, most of these venues are public government venues. Except for businesses most affected by the pandemic like bars, many private venues and sectors have not been enthusiastic about the scheme. Insufficient promotion by the authorities and their lack of close collaboration with private organisations have greatly reduced the effectiveness of the scheme.

明報社評 2020.11.17:抗疫半吊子 香港難脫困







■/ Glossary 生字 /

half-baked /ˌhɑːf ˈbeɪkt/:not well planned or considered

lukewarm /ˌluːkˈwɔːm/:not interested or enthusiastic

shortfall /ˈʃɔːtfɔːl/:a deficit of sth required or expected


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