【明報專訊】As progress has been unsatisfactory in Hong Kong's COVID-19 vaccination programme, the government has expanded the scheme to cover all people aged 16 and above, thus opening the chapter of universal vaccination. Whether the pace of vaccination can be significantly accelerated this summer will have a direct bearing on whether people's livelihood and the economy can return to normal in the second half of the year.
Fifty days into the vaccination programme launched by the Hong Kong government, more than 600,000 people have been vaccinated, translating into a vaccination rate of less than 10%. The pandemic situation remains severe around the world. The daily number of new cases has exceeded 200,000 in India, while Europe adds about 1.6 million new cases every week. If Hong Kong wants a substantial relaxation of pandemic-prevention measures and a return to normal in terms of people's livelihood and economy, it must overcome vaccine hesitancy and speed up vaccination.
Over the past few days, people from all sectors have talked a lot about the "vaccine bubble" road map. Some people in industries such as restaurants and bars think that the conditions are harsh, while some employees are worried that they will be dismissed if they refuse to cooperate. When it comes to the controversies over the "vaccine bubble" proposal, some are real issues, but the others are fake. The controversies can be addressed accurately only by distinguishing between the real and fake issues. The Equal Opportunities Commission has pointed out that it might constitute indirect discrimination against those not physically fit to be vaccinated if employers require employees to get vaccinated and fire those who do not do so. The government and employers need to be serious about this issue and take care of those who cannot get vaccinated. However, if restaurant owners want to hold large-scale banquets again and have the limit on the number of people per table removed, it will be reasonable to designate an area exclusive to those who have been vaccinated. Amid the pandemic, the industry must do more than going through the motions. While it is controversial to link the issue of vaccination to the relaxation of social restrictions, such an arrangement is not unique to Hong Kong. Israel, for example, has a "green pass" system, under which only citizens who have received vaccination can enter restaurants, hotels and other venues. Some European countries have even made it compulsory for healthcare workers to receive vaccination. During COVID-19 outbreaks, there are many compulsory restraints, and no one is happy about them. However, for the fight against the pandemic to succeed, it is necessary to emphasise the common good.
The universal vaccination has officially been launched. Without doubt herd immunity will be the ideal situation. The Israeli government has recently stated that nearly 60% of the population have been vaccinated. If those who have recovered from COVID-19 infection are also included, about 70% of the country's population have antibodies against COVID-19. While the Israeli authorities have lifted many pandemic-prevention measures, the number of newly confirmed cases has continued to fall and is down by 97% compared with the height of the pandemic. The government cites this as evidence of achieving herd immunity. However, many experts have also pointed out that first-generation vaccines have unknown duration of protection against the virus, and there are variants of the virus that complicate matters. It is therefore questionable whether it is possible to achieve "herd immunity". Even if it is possible in practice, it could be temporary and fragile. In any case, the more people are vaccinated against COVID-19 in a certain place, the more promising the fight against the pandemic and the more leeway the place has for the relaxation of social restrictions. Even if Hong Kong's vaccination drive cannot be as vigorous as Israel's, the city should strive to boost the vaccination rate to at least 40% to 50% over the next few months.
Hong Kong people should make good use of every dose of the COVID-19 vaccines available to them. The more people are vaccinated as soon as possible, the more likely Hong Kong will return to normal as soon as possible.
bearing : the way in which sth is related to sth or influences it
go through the motions : to do or say sth because you have to, not because you really want to
lift : to remove or end restrictions