英文

Editorial : Launch of universal vaccination scheme

【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.

明報社評2021.04.16:全民接種變相啟動 珍惜疫苗早打早着

本港新冠疫苗接種進度未如理想,政府全面擴大接種群組,涵蓋所有16歲或以上人士,揭開「全民打針」序幕,這個夏天接種步伐能否顯著加快,關乎下半年民生經濟復常。

港府開展疫苗接種計劃,今天是第50天,累計有60多萬人打過針,接種率不足一成。全球疫情依然嚴峻,印度單日新增病例突破20萬,歐洲每周亦新增約160萬宗個案,香港若想大幅放寬防疫措施,讓民生經濟復常,必須克服疫苗猶豫,加快接種步伐。

過去數天,各界對「疫苗氣泡」路線圖議論紛紛,有食肆、酒吧等業界人士認為「條件苛刻」,有打工仔則擔心,拒絕配合會被炒。關於「疫苗氣泡」的爭議,有些是真問題,亦有一些是偽命題,好好區分,方能對症下藥。平機會指出,僱主要求員工必須打針否則「炒人」,可能對身體不適合打針的人,構成間接歧視,政府和業界需要正視問題,照顧不能打針的人。然而食肆若想復辦大型宴會酒席、每枱人數再無限制,劃出指定區域只限已接種者入座,其實合情合理,疫下業界不能指望做些門面功夫就可復常。將打針與放寬社交限制掛鈎,做法雖有爭議,惟非香港獨有,以色列便有「綠色通行證」制度,只有完成接種的國民,才能進入食肆、酒店等場所,部分歐洲國家甚至強制醫療人員接種。疫下強制約束多,無人樂見,可是抗疫要成功,不得不偏重大我。

全民接種正式啟動,若能實現群體免疫,當然最理想。以色列最近表示,隨着近六成人口完成接種,加上康復者,全國約有七成民眾有新冠病毒抗體,當局已取消不少防疫措施,但新增確診數字持續下跌,比高峰期下跌97%,認為這是實現了群體免疫的「證據」。不過亦有很多專家指出,第一代疫苗抗體效力為期未明,還有變種病毒,是否有可能做到「群體免疫」,本身便是疑問,就算現實真的可行,也可能短暫兼脆弱。無論如何,一個地方愈多人完成接種,抗疫愈有把握,愈有本錢放寬社交限制。香港即使無法像以色列般雷厲風行,亦應力爭在未來數月,將接種率至少催谷到四至五成。

港人應善用已有的每一劑新冠疫苗,愈多人盡早打針,香港愈有機會早日復常。

■Glossary

生字

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

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