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








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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