英文

Editorial : Prevent unreasonable expectations

【明報專訊】Over the past few days, there have been few new COVID infection cases in Hong Kong. However, the numbers are not a true reflection of how the virus was spreading during the Chinese New Year holidays. Now the government has relaxed social distancing measures, allowing night-time dine-in services to resume and venues such as beauty parlours and cinemas to resume business. Such relaxation carries a certain risk. The conditions for the relaxation laid down by the authorities include: 1) the strengthening of virus testing, with some employees in certain industries required to get tested every two weeks and 2) the strengthening of tracking, as anyone who enters and exits restaurants and other premises must scan a QR code with the "Leave Home Safe" mobile app or provide their personal information. Although the authorities have repeatedly emphasised that those using "Leave Home Safe" will not leak their personal data, many citizens would rather let the restaurants record their personal information than store their information inside their phones with the "Leave Home Safe" app. It is questionable whether some people have provided their names and phone numbers truthfully. At this stage, the government can only try to provide incentives, trading the permission to resume business and normal life for the co-operation of all sectors. All it can do is try as much as possible.

First-generation COVID-19 vaccines that were developed within a short time frame are not as well-established as those against measles, and the risk of serious side effects will not be zero. This is not to mention that the global supply is tight. Even in Israel, which has been promised by vaccine suppliers a guaranteed supply until 95% of the people are vaccinated, the authorities have not considered mandatory vaccination for all people so far. The Israeli authorities have instead employed a mix of hard and soft tactics, providing incentives and urging citizens to receive vaccination. In Hong Kong, vaccination is mainly voluntary, and the COVID-19 vaccination programme will start next month at the earliest. In the first stage, people from five categories, including healthcare workers, the elderly and cross-border drivers, will be given priority.

International vaccine experts have repeatedly pointed out that COVID-19 vaccines are only known to prevent people from developing symptoms, but not infection. Because of that, any existing COVID-19 vaccine, regardless of its "efficacy", cannot guarantee herd immunity. That vaccines can prevent the symptoms but not the infection is the basis for the correct understanding of the first generation of COVID-19 vaccines. If one does not understand this, one might have excessively high expectations. In order to encourage vaccination, some countries actively promote the concept of "vaccine passports". Under the proposal, those who have been vaccinated can go abroad for vacation if they have documents proving so. Some countries have even begun to take action. Denmark and Sweden are preparing for mutual recognition of vaccine passports, while Israel has reached a mutual recognition agreement for vaccine passports with Greece and Cyprus.

Earlier this year, WHO experts warned that countries should not rush to resume travel with "vaccine passports" because there is no evidence that those who are vaccinated will not get infected or spread the virus. While the WHO does not rule out the possibility of a "vaccine passport" scheme coming true in the long term, it does not mean that such a practice is safe and feasible in the short and medium term. Once a country restarts the tourism industry and a serious outbreak occurs, other countries are likely to withdraw from the scheme. When that happens, "vaccine passports" might be a repeat of the failure of the "travel bubble" scheme. If cases in Hong Kong cannot be brought to zero, even if some citizens are vaccinated, the mainland may not be comfortable about letting them in.

明報社評2021.02.19:政府提供接種誘因 避免釀不合理期望

這幾天,本港新增感染病例不多,惟未真正反映新春病毒傳播情况,現在政府放寬社交距離措施,恢復晚市堂食,容許美容院、戲院等處所復業,實有一定風險。當局開出的放寬條件,一是加強病毒檢測,部分行業員工要兩周一檢,二是加強追蹤工作,但凡出入食肆等處所,必須掃描「安心出行」又或留下個人資料紀錄。雖然當局多番強調使用「安心出行」不會泄露個人私隱,然而不少市民寧可讓商戶記下個人資料,也不用「安心出行」將資料儲藏在手機中;部分人有否如實寫下姓名電話資料,同屬疑問。現階段政府只能設法提供誘因,以復業復常等爭取各界配合,做得多少得多少。

首代新冠疫苗火速研發,成熟程度無法與麻疹等疫苗相提並論,出現嚴重副作用的風險亦不會是零,莫說全球供應緊張,就算像以色列般獲疫苗商擔保供貨到九成半國民完成接種為止,當局也沒有考慮強制全民注射,而是軟硬兼施,提供誘因,敦促接種。在香港,疫苗接種向以自願為本,新冠疫苗接種計劃最快下月展開,首階段將安排醫護、長者及跨境司機等5類人士優先接種。

國際疫苗專家再三指出,新冠疫苗已知效用僅是防止發病而非防止感染。在此前提下,現有任何新冠疫苗,不管「有效率」高低,皆無法保證可以實現群體免疫。「可防發病未知可否防感染」,是正確認識首代新冠疫苗之本,若不理解這一點,就有可能產生過高期望。一些國家為了鼓勵接種,積極推銷「疫苗護照」這概念,主張已接種者持有證明文件,就可出國度假,個別國家更開始付諸行動,丹麥瑞典正籌備疫苗護照互通,以色列更跟希臘和塞浦路斯達成「疫苗護照」互通協議。

今年初,世衛專家曾告誡各國,不要急推「疫苗護照」恢復旅遊,原因正是無證據顯示打了疫苗不會感染或傳播病毒。世衛不排除「疫苗護照」長遠可成真,不代表有關做法在中短期安全可行,一旦有接待國重啟旅遊業後嚴重爆疫,其他國家大有可能打退堂鼓,令「疫苗護照」重蹈旅遊氣泡覆轍。如果香港疫情一直無法清零,即使部分市民有接種疫苗,其實內地亦未必放心讓港人入境。

■Glossary

生字

reflection : a sign that shows the state or nature of sth

mutual : used to describe feelings that two or more people have for each other equally, or actions that affect two or more people equally

feasible : that is possible and likely to be achieved

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