英文

Editorial:Plug the loopholes of variant gatekeeping

【明報專訊】The number of new confirmed cases of COVID-19 infection in Hong Kong has remained low in recent days. Most of the cases were imported, and even the local cases had basically known origins. On the surface, the pandemic seems to have eased off. However, since six confirmed cases involving mutant strains have also emerged in the community and some of them are untraceable, there are still major malaises in the city's pandemic situation. In order to prevent the situation from developing into another wave of outbreaks, the government must adopt measures as quickly as possible to break the transmission chains of mutant strains. Furthermore, as the release of variants into the community shows that there are loopholes in the anti-pandemic and quarantine measures concerning inbound travellers, the government must take a thorough review and plug the loopholes. Only then can the anti-pandemic achievements be reinforced and can it be ensured that the pandemic will not worsen repeatedly, thus enabling the entire city to come out of the predicament gradually.

Up till now, there have been six cases of COVID-19 variant infection. The latest case involved a 28-year-old housewife who arrived from India in Hong Kong on April 4. She had finished quarantine and had stayed active in the community for at least seven days before infection was confirmed. The case has raised concern about whether transmission chains have already formed. All of the other five cases involved a South African variant. But after genomic sequencing, experts have confirmed that the DNA of the variant that has infected a Filipino maid working at Kennedy Road is significantly different from that of the other four cases, thus ruling out the possibility of transmission between that case and the other four. Furthermore, experts who have examined all aspects concerning the maid believe that she might have been infected with the variant at her place of origin. But since she stayed in the community for at least six days before being confirmed of infection, experts do not rule out the possibility that there is now another invisible chain of variant transmission in the community.

As for the other four South African variant cases, the confirmed infections in chronological order are as follows: a man of Indian descent was first confirmed of infection, then his female friend; next the case of a 39-year-old Filipino maid working at Tung Chung was confirmed, after which a 10-month-old girl that she babysits was also confirmed of infection. According to established facts, the maid as well as the Indian man and his female friend had visited the Citygate Outlets shopping centre in Tung Chung on the same day. It was the only common place that they had been to, but that was already enough to cause transmission of the variant and infection. That shows the formidable transmissibility of the variant.

From the circumstances mentioned above, one can tell there are at least two chains of variant transmission in the community. One is related to the maid at Kennedy Road, and the other, the Indian man and his female friend. COVID-19 variants are more transmissible and more toxic. The recent escalation of the pandemic in India to catastrophic levels has been related to these mutant strains. If the invisible chains of variant transmission in Hong Kong cannot be broken in time, one cannot rule out the possibility that there will be a spike in confirmed cases in a short period of time.

Of the six people with confirmed variant infection, the Kennedy Road maid, the Indian man and the 28-year-old housewife whose case was lately confirmed had all undergone quarantine at designated hotels. They all had tested negative several times during quarantine and were confirmed to have a positive test only after they had finished quarantine and been released into the community. At this moment, the system design of the current 21-day mandatory quarantine arrangement for travellers arriving in Hong Kong does seem up to the task. The loophole is highly likely to be in the process of operation and implementation. For example, are test samples collected effectively? Are the testing procedures up to the standard required? The government must set strict requirements for the organisations that carry out the outsourced testing. There should also be an effective monitoring mechanism to make sure that the testing and the quality of laboratory work meet the requirements.

明報社評 2021.05.04:追蹤接觸者堵塞漏洞 防變種病毒爆發疫情

近日,本港確診新冠病毒個案在低位徘徊,主要由外地輸入,即使是本地確診,基本上知道源頭,表面上疫情紓緩了;不過,社區已經出現6宗變種病毒確診個案,其中有不知道源頭,本港疫情因而存在重大隱憂。政府須盡快採取措施,切斷變種病毒傳播鏈,以免演變至另一波疫情。另外,變種病毒流入社區,反映入境防疫或檢疫措施有漏洞,政府須全面檢討,堵塞漏洞,鞏固防疫成果,確保疫情不再反覆惡化,從而使本港整體逐步走出困局。

迄今確診6宗變種病毒個案,最新一宗是4月4日從印度抵港的28歲家庭主婦,完成隔離檢測,在社區活動最少7日才確診,使人擔憂是否已經佈下了傳播鏈。至於其他5宗都帶有南非變種病毒,專家進行基因排序之後,確認在堅尼地道工作的菲傭,與其他4宗的病毒基因差異大,可以排除互相傳播;另外,專家審視這名菲傭各種情况,認為她可能在原居地感染病毒,不過,由於她確診前已經在社區活動最少6日,專家不排除社區有一條隱形變種病毒傳播鏈。

另外4宗南非變種病毒個案,確診時序始於一名印度裔男子,然後其女友人確診。至於在東涌工作的39歲菲傭確診後,她照顧的10個月大女少主亦確診。從已知情况,她與該名印度裔男子和女友人,曾經分別同時到東涌東薈城,這是他們唯一交集場合,卻也構成傳播和感染,反映變種病毒傳染能力之強橫。

從上述情况看來,社區起碼存在的傳播鏈,一是與堅尼地道菲傭有關,二是與印度裔男子、女友人有關。變種病毒傳播速度更快、毒性更強,近期印度疫情惡化至災難級別,就與變種病毒有關。設若本港幾條隱形傳播鏈未能及時切斷,不能排除出現短期內確診個案激增的局面。

已知6宗變種病毒確診個案,其中堅尼地道菲傭、印度裔男子和近日確診的28歲家庭主婦,都曾經在指定酒店隔離檢疫,其間多次檢測,都是陰性,隔離期滿到社區之後,才被確診為陽性。現在對來港旅客實施21天強制隔離檢疫,目前看來,系統設計應該無問題,漏洞極可能出在操作執行,例如是否能夠採集有效樣本、化驗程序是否合乎規定要求等。政府對於外判檢測機構,必須從嚴要求,並須有效機制監察,確保檢測、化驗質量符合規定要求。

■/ Glossary 生字 /

loophole /ˈluːphəʊl/:an ambiguity or inadequacy in the law or a set of rules

ease off:to become less serious or severe

established /ɪˈstæblɪʃt/:recognised and generally accepted

■英語社評聲檔:link.mingpao.com/53000.htm

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