【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.
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