【明報專訊】As COVID-19 infections have begun to subside in Hong Kong, the government has loosened the anti-pandemic restrictions for some types of venues. The quarantine period for inbound travellers from regions of middle to low risks can also be shortened. It is of course everyone's wish for the economy and people's livelihood to return to normal as early as possible, but the steps towards that end must be made cautiously. The government has strived hard for months to achieve ''zero infections'' and a glimmer of hope is finally on the horizon. At this critical moment, we must act cautiously every step of the way. The re-emergence of a local infection case of unclear origin yesterday (March 29) shows that there are still chains of asymptomatic transmission in the community. As the long holiday spanning the Ching Ming Festival and Easter is coming, we must be strictly on guard against a fifth wave of infections. It is true that people in all trades want to return to normal and every household has their own wish. But the government must give the highest consideration to ''preventing an internal rebound'' of infections when relaxing social distancing measures. In view of the volatility of the pandemic outside Hong Kong and the fact that the virus variants ravaging many countries are particularly contagious, the loosening of quarantine requirements for travellers from some regions must be handled with extra caution. Any loophole in the prevention of imported infections could spoil all previous hard work.
It has been nearly half a year since the start of the fourth wave of outbreaks, and a string of ''battles'' have been fought. At last, the city reported zero local infection again the other day for the first time in more than four months. Of course, as far as pandemic prevention and control is concerned, we need zero local transmission for 28 days in a row to get the all-clear. The city is still some way from the goal of ''zero infections'' set by the Hong Kong government. However, from a cautiously optimistic perspective, at least the target of achieving basic ''zero infections'' in Hong Kong is no longer a pipe dream.
After announcing last week that secondary and primary schools will be permitted to arrange more face-to-face lessons, the authorities made more announcements yesterday. Swimming pools can be reopened under certain conditions. The capacity cap on the number of visitors to cinemas and theme parks will also be increased. But to the disappointment of some industries, most of the existing social distancing measures will be extended to at least the middle of next month. However, as this is a critical juncture for pandemic control, the anti-pandemic measures should absolutely not be relaxed with undue haste. It may seem that the fourth wave of the pandemic has almost run its course. But if one carefully recalls the development in the past few months — including the restaurant cluster of infections related to Mr Ming's Chinese Dining and the recent fitness cluster, one will realise that the ''endgame'' has always gone into ''overtime''. The number of local infections without clear source has continued to drop but obviously there are still chains of asymptomatic transmission in the community. Yesterday's report of one case of unclear origin, which has broken the recent clean slate, was exactly a timely reminder of that.
As the pandemic eases off, there has been a significant increase in people's social activities in recent days. The anti-pandemic awareness may slacken off easily as a result. Furthermore, the Ching Ming and Easter holiday is coming and past experiences tell us that the pandemic often becomes volatile after a long holiday. At this moment, the most important point is to strictly guard against the emergence of the fifth wave of the pandemic after Easter. If there is no significant rebound in the number of local infections, there is certainly a chance that Hong Kong will achieve ''zero infections'' by the end of April. But in case the pandemic unfortunately rebounds, the efforts towards ''zero infections'' will go down the drain. In that case, no one will know to what extent people's livelihood and all the different sectors will continue to suffer. The cinema sector has recently called on the government to allow movie-goers to eat inside the theatres alongside loosening the cap on filling cinema seats. This actually means allowing the audience to take off their masks, which is problematic and undesirable.
明報社評 2021.03.30：隱形毒鏈從未切斷 疫情紓緩實質脆弱
■/ Glossary 生字 /
volatility /ˌvɒləˈtɪləti/：the quality in a situation of being likely to change suddenly
run/take its course：to develop in the usual way and come to the usual end
go down the drain：to be totally wasted