【明報專訊】The fourth wave of the pandemic has been plaguing Hong Kong for three months. Yesterday (February 3), the number of new cases dropped to less than 20 in a single day for the first time in nearly a month and a half, which is at least good news, although it cannot be said that the pandemic has been brought under control. The government is planning a return to normal economic and bread-and-butter activities, with the opening of borders, resumption of classes and gradual restoration of normal public services. However, whether the government can bring the number of cases to zero so that sporadic cases can be quickly eliminated even if they arise is still of crucial importance when it comes to whether a sustainable return to normal can be achieved.
Hong Kong has been fighting the pandemic for more than a year. In each wave, the battle has been fiercer and longer than the previous one. The fourth wave of infections surfaced in early November last year. The situation has kept evolving. At the beginning those infected were mainly from the singing and dancing cluster, which comprised people from middle and upper social strata. But recently, it has been people from the grassroots strata living in old districts that have constituted the most cases. The number of confirmed cases in a single day dropped to 19 yesterday after a series of bitter battles. For the public, a dozen cases or so are something that has not been seen for more than a month.
The government has recently mentioned a number of resumption arrangements. In primary and secondary schools, the Education Bureau has laid down some conditions for the resumption of face-to-face classes. After the Lunar New Year holiday, schools can, according to the needs, consider arranging for more students to return to school. If a school can arrange regular testing of all staff every two weeks, it can, conditionally, resume face-to-face classes for half a day. As for the gradual restoration of government services, it will be supported by the expanded use of the ''Leave Home Safe'' app. In the first phase, people will be ''strongly recommended'' to scan the ''Leave Home Safe'' QR code when entering and leaving the government headquarters, which the government says will make tracking easier if there is an outbreak. The second phase will start after the Lunar New Year, and the measure will be extended to more government offices and buildings.
As the fourth wave of the outbreak slows down gradually, the authorities need to figure out how to avoid a fifth wave of the pandemic while planning for a ''conditional return to normal''. The key to success on the mainland is that it has found a highly effective way of eliminating the virus, so that even if there are sporadic infections, they can be eliminated quickly. As an alternative plan, Hong Kong's ambush-style campaign against COVID-19 seems to have produced some initial successes. However, it remains to be seen whether it will be possible to bring the number of cases to zero, and the concrete way it is executed should be improved. There are experts who are worried that the reliance on positive test results of sewage samples to determine whether the building should undergo compulsory testing will result in the risk of undetected cases.
When it comes to the prevention of imported cases, the second wave of the outbreak was triggered by the return of a large number of Hong Kong people's offspring from Europe and the US during the Easter holidays last year. At that time, experts already suggested using designated hotels to deal with high-risk arrivals. However, government officials cited various reasons and did not adopt the plan, dawdling for more than half a year before deciding to implement it before Christmas. As for the prevention of a rebound of cases domestically, although the government's ambush-style measures to control the pandemic are more aggressive than before, the authorities have not yet shown the determination to close the loopholes in the repeated outbreaks of the pandemic on infrastructural sites and adopt experts' call for regular mandatory testing.
明報社評 2021.02.04：基本清零迅速掃蕩 確保疫情無第五波
■/ Glossary 生字 /
resumption /rɪˈzʌmpʃn/：the act of beginning sth again after it has stopped
crucial /ˈkruːʃl/：extremely important, because it will affect other things
dawdle /ˈdɔːdl/：waste time; be slow