【明報專訊】The government has suggested ''a new direction in fighting the pandemic'' under which social distancing measures and quarantine restrictions for inbound and outbound travellers will be loosened gradually with ''vaccine bubbles'' as the basis. With the pandemic easing off and the abundant supply of COVID-19 vaccines in Hong Kong, it is time to formulate a road map for restoring the city to normality. However, flexibility should be allowed in the design and operation of the road map. A one-size-fits-all approach should be avoided and the pace down the road should be gradual and step by step. As the unsatisfactory vaccination rate in Hong Kong is bound to drag the city's feet in the return to normality, it is necessary to increase the incentives for citizens to get the jab. But the government's way of pegging the pace of restoring normality to vaccination and the use of the LeaveHomeSafe tracing app is, to a certain extent, a combination of the carrot and the stick which will inevitably be resisted by some. Still, one must acknowledge the fact that countries like Israel and the UK are also planning to adopt ''digital vaccine certificates'' as the prerequisite for entering designated venues or places. The crux of the problem is how to strike a reasonable balance between the needs of fighting the pandemic, society's return to normality and individual rights. Too many ideological burdens will make it hard for the city to take steps towards normality.
With less than one-tenth of the population having received the jab, Hong Kong's pace of inoculation is slow. Disease control experts have projected that, at this slow pace, the city may have to wait until 2023 before the entire population is vaccinated. If one looks around the world, one will find that Israel and the UK have satisfactory vaccination rates, which are more than 50% and 40% respectively. Recently, both countries have begun to ''loosen the restrictions'' to return to normality. Hong Kong must rouse itself to catch up. It needs to have a practical road map for both the speeding up of its vaccination drive and the return to normality.
According to the government's blueprint for restoring normality, whether the restrictions on restaurants can be significantly loosened later will depend on whether the restaurant staff and the customers have been vaccinated and whether all the customers have used the LeaveHomeSafe app. If all staff of a restaurant have been fully vaccinated or the restaurant only serves customers who have received both doses of a jab, the maximum number of people seated together can hopefully be increased to 12. As for high-risk premises that have long been closed under the pandemic, like bars, karaoke lounges and mahjong parlours, if all staff and customers are vaccinated and use the LeaveHomeSafe app, they will also be allowed to reopen limitedly. The specific requirements and the pace of loosening the restrictions have yet to be decided. The idea has caused strong reactions from society that include ideological controversies as well as concerns about operational problems in practice. These two kinds of concerns are different in nature and should be treated separately.
Furthermore, because of various reasons, some citizens may not be able to receive vaccinations at all. The government should also address the needs of this group of people. For example, whether children are suitable for receiving a COVID-19 vaccine is a question still under research by experts around the globe. As the city has not yet set the time for starting universal inoculation, young people aged under 30 are still not included in the vaccination programme. There are also some who dare not get the jab because of personal health problems like suffering from the ''three highs'' (high blood pressure, high blood sugar and high cholesterol). If the government goes ahead to peg normality restoration measures to vaccination, it is necessary to seriously consider how to avoid affecting the reasonable rights of these people. Some citizens with special needs worry that they are not suitable for vaccination but there may be no more free COVID-19 testing service. The government must help them solve this problem and avoid turning them into a group of ''pandemic outcasts''.
明報社評 2021.04.13：抗疫新路向軟硬兼施 妥善照顧「疫下邊緣人」
■/ Glossary 生字 /
outcast /ˈaʊtkɑːst/：a person who is not accepted by society or by a particular group
strike a balance (between A and B)：to manage to find a way of being fair to two things that are opposed to each other; to find an acceptable position that is between two things
rouse /raʊz/ sb to do sth：to make sb want to start doing sth when they were not active or interested in doing it