英文

Editorial:Avoid the creation of 'pandemic outcasts'

【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」

政府提出「抗疫新路向」,以「疫苗氣泡」為基礎,逐步放寬社交距離和出入境檢疫限制。現在本港疫情緩和、新冠疫苗供應充足,是時候制訂復常路線圖,至於具體設計操作,則應預留彈性,避免一刀切,一步一步來。本港疫苗接種率不理想,必定拖慢復常腳步,有必要增加市民打針誘因,政府將復常步伐,與接種疫苗和使用「安心出行」掛鈎,當中有軟硬兼施成分,難免有人抗拒,然而必須承認的是,以色列和英國等國家,一樣打算以「疫苗電子證明」,作為出入指定處所或場合的必要條件,關鍵是如何在防疫需要、社會復常和個人權利之間,求取合理平衡,太多意識形態包袱,將令社會復常舉步維艱。

香港疫苗接種速度緩慢,已打針者不足人口一成,防疫專家指出,以此速度推算,香港隨時要等到2023年,方有希望做到全民接種。放眼世界,以色列和英國等地疫苗接種進度理想,分別超過五成及四成,最近兩地都開始「鬆綁」復常,香港有必要急起直追,無論是加快疫苗接種還是推動復常,都要有切實可行的路線圖。

根據政府的復常藍圖,食肆營業限制日後可否顯著放寬,將取決於食肆員工和食客是否完成接種,以及所有客人皆使用「安心出行」應用程式,一間食肆倘若全部員工完成接種,又只接待已接種兩劑疫苗的客人,每枱人數有望提升至12人,至於因為疫情而長期停業的高風險處所,諸如酒吧、卡拉OK和麻將館等,如果所有員工及顧客皆有打針,兼且人人有用安心出行,亦可有限度復業,具體細節要求和放寬步伐有待決定。相關構思在社會引起不少迴響,當中既有意識形態爭議,亦有現實操作問題。這兩類問題性質不同,應區分看待。

另外,部分市民因為種種原因無法打針,政府亦要照顧這一類人的需要。兒童是否適合接種新冠疫苗,各地專家尚在研究。香港未知何時開始全民接種,30歲以下年輕人,尚未納入接種範圍,亦有人因為有「三高」等健康問題,不敢打針。政府將復常措施與打針掛鈎,如何避免影響這些人的合理權益,需要認真思量。一些有特殊需要的市民,擔心既無法打針,又沒有免費檢測服務,政府必須幫他們解決問題,避免他們成為「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

■英語社評聲檔:link.mingpao.com/53000.htm

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