英文

Editorial : The many compromises of 'vaccine bubble' scheme

【明報專訊】The government is to relax social distancing measures from Thursday (today) onwards. The relaxation will be supported by a "vaccine bubble" scheme. Restrictions on the operations of restaurants will be relaxed to different degrees that vary with the numbers of staff and customers who are vaccinated. The resumption of the operations of bars and local tours will also be predicated upon vaccination.

As the Hong Kong government has expanded its vaccination scheme to citizens aged 16 or above, Hong Kong has effectively entered the stage of universal vaccination. The government has made a string of moves recently to boost the vaccination rate. The travel bubble scheme between Singapore and Hong Kong, for example, requires Hong Kong people to get vaccinated before they can participate. The relaxation of social distancing measures announced yesterday (April 27) is also based on vaccination.

Earlier this month, the government proposed a road map for the vaccine bubble, leading to a lot of discussions from different sectors of society. The industries concerned were worried that it would be difficult to do business if the requirements were too strict, and some employees were worried that they would be dismissed if they did not get vaccinated. Some people looked at the matter from an ideological point of view, arguing that the vaccine bubble would be a form of "discrimination" against those who were not vaccinated. They even claimed that the scheme would amount to "segregation" and would create a "labelling effect".

Small restaurants have limited space and do not have a lot of operating modes to choose from. In contrast, large restaurants have much bigger room for manoeuvre. If the venue is large enough, theoretically it can be divided into multiple areas to accommodate four modes of operations. Even if they do not go to such extremes, they can simply divide the venue into two areas, i.e., one for the vaccinated and another for the unvaccinated. This will suffice to increase the flexibility of business operations. It is foreseeable that some people who do not want to get vaccinated will definitely find the new arrangement annoying and troublesome. Some employers will also think that the ideal situation will be resumption to normal without so many restrictions or regulations. However, everyone must face the reality and muster the determination to take complete anti-pandemic measures. A rash attempt to return to normal will only result in a rebound of cases. The government has ordered that high-risk venues such as bars should only serve customers who are vaccinated after their resumption of business, leading to a chorus of complaints among people in the industry. They are worried that they will not do much business even after they reopen. However, amid the pandemic, public health safety should be a matter of overriding importance. There is not an alternative to a set of stricter rules for high-risk venues.

The new arrangements for the vaccine bubble show that the government has tried to accommodate those who cannot get vaccinated. While views differ as to whether the government has done enough in this regard, the only certain thing is that the more compromises the government makes in the arrangements, the more complexities there are concerning the execution of the plan. Inevitably there will be many deviations from the arrangements after they are introduced. For example, when restaurants or bars inspect the vaccination records of their customers, they do not have the right to require them to produce their ID cards for verification. Government officials admit that some customers might try to wangle their way into these venues by producing others' vaccination records. As for large restaurants divided into different areas to serve different types of customers, it is questionable whether officers from the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) can distinguish between these areas when they conduct a blitz inspection. If wedding banquets are divided into two areas for the vaccinated and unvaccinated respectively, it will raise another issue whether the guests will cross their boundaries when they leave their seats to talk and drink. If FEHD officers arrive, the possibility of a chaotic scene in which everyone rushes back to their seat cannot be ruled out. The "vaccine bubble" arrangements are tentative. The authorities need to pay close attention to how they are being implemented to avoid chaos.

明報社評2021.04.28:疫苗氣泡安排折衷多 光怪陸離亂象須提防

政府以「疫苗氣泡」為基礎,周四起放寬社交距離措施,食肆營業限制,視乎員工及顧客打針情况,可以有不同程度鬆綁,酒吧復業、本地遊復辦,同樣要以接種疫苗為前提。

港府開放16歲或以上市民預約接種,香港實際已進入全民接種階段,為了催谷打針,政府最近接連出招,包括在星港旅遊氣泡計劃加入打針要求,港人完成接種方可參與;昨天公布的放寬社交措施安排,同樣是以打針為基礎。

政府本月初提出疫苗氣泡路線圖,各界議論紛紛。業界擔心規定太嚴很難做生意,有打工仔則擔心不打針被炒;有人則從意識形態角度,質疑疫苗氣泡「歧視」不打針者,甚至揚言這是「隔離政策」,製造「標籤效應」,云云。

小食肆空間有限,可以選擇的運作模式不多,可是大型食肆迴旋空間確是擴大不少,如果場地夠大,理論上可以劃分多區,4種運作模式同場並用,就算不去到如此極端,單是區分出「打針區」和「非打針區」,也足以提高做生意的彈性。可以想像,不願打針的人,必然覺得新安排「擾民兼麻煩」,也一定有僱主覺得,最理想是直接復常,不搞那麼多限制或規定,可是疫下所有人都得面對現實,不下決心做足防疫措施,貿然復常,疫情必定反彈。政府規定酒吧等高風險處所復業,只能招待已打針顧客,業界怨聲載道,擔心復業也不會有多少生意,然而疫情之下,公共衛生安全應有凌駕性,從嚴處理高風險處所,亦是迫不得已。

疫苗氣泡新安排,反映當局有嘗試照顧無法或未能打針的人,是否足夠見仁見智,唯一可以肯定的是,折衷安排愈多,措施執行愈複雜,初期一定出現不少光怪陸離現象。舉例說,食肆酒吧檢查客人疫苗接種紀錄,無權查看客人身分證核對,官員承認可能有人博懵,展示他人的「針紙」;大型食肆劃分不同區域,處理不同類型客人,食環署人員突擊巡查,能否分清楚是一個疑問;婚宴若要劃分「打針區」及「非打針區」,賓客離座攀談飲酒,會否有人過界「犯規」,又是另一問題,一旦食環人員到場,不排除出現「走鬼」混亂場面。疫苗氣泡安排摸着石頭過河,當局需要密切留意執行情况,避免亂象。

■Glossary

生字

predicate sth on/upon sth : to base sth on a particular belief, idea or principle

wangle : to get sth that you or another person wants by persuading sb or by a clever plan

tentative : not definite or certain because you may want to change it later

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