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Editorial : Boosting inoculations

【明報專訊】Today (May 26) marks exactly three months since Hong Kong's COVID-19 vaccination programme began, but the vaccination rate has still not reached 20%. In terms of the building of the wall of herd immunity, there is still a long way to go. Outbreaks are worsening in neighbouring regions such as Taiwan and Japan. If Hong Kong is to return to normal, its inoculation drive must be stepped up in the coming months.

On February 26, the Hong Kong government officially launched its vaccination programme for the public, which marked the beginning of a new stage in Hong Kong's fight against COVID. Time flies and three months have just passed. So far, more than 1.27 million people in Hong Kong have got vaccinated, equivalent to 19.5% of the population. The total number of people who have got both doses is about 920,000. However, compared with some cities in the region, Hong Kong is significantly lagging behind in inoculation. Though Singapore has not made its vaccination programme universal, the vaccination rate there is already over 20%. Moreover, Hong Kong and the four Tier-1 mainland cities (i.e. Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen) are worlds apart in terms of their vaccination rates. Beijing's rate is about 75%, and Shanghai's, 50%. Guangzhou and Shenzhen are slightly behind, but each still has 40%.

In mid-April, the government announced the "vaccine bubble" scheme as its anti-pandemic strategy, basing the gradual relaxation of various social distancing measures on vaccination. This sparked a lot of controversy in society. From an ideological perspective, some criticised the scheme for depriving those who do not want to get a jab of their rights. Some questioned that it could not help encourage people to get the shots. Numbers don't lie. As of April 26, the cumulative number of people receiving the first dose was about 860,000, and the vaccination rate was about 13%. In retrospect, the government has had a devil of a job in the past one month only keeping the vaccination pace from slowing. If it had not made any moves, the vaccination pace would have probably slowed markedly. Chuang Shuk-kwan, head of the Centre for Health Protection's Communicable Disease Branch, recently mentioned that one of the purposes of the various social distancing measures introduced in the past year was to slow down outbreaks before vaccines were available. Now that they are, "I don't know what everyone is waiting for," she said. Her lamentation at the situation was beyond words. The pandemic has tormented Hong Kong for a long time. Members of society need to adjust their mentality, revisit their common interests, take a positive view of boosting inoculations, work together to accelerate the vaccination programme and strive for a win-win situation.

There are numerous ways to boost inoculations by governments around the globe. Plus ça change. A government can grant those who do so certain rights through public policy or penalise those who do not. Sometimes they are the two sides of the same coin. Sometimes they serve their own purposes. The third way is through material incentives, such as giving money and gifts to encourage inoculations. They can be provided by the government or private organisations.

明報社評2021.05.26:齊心協力谷針 爭取香港共贏

本港新冠疫苗接種計劃,今天剛滿3個月,接種率未達兩成,距離形成疫苗保護屏障,尚有很遠路程。放眼鄰近地區,台灣、日本等地疫情都在惡化,香港若要復常,未來數月必須加緊「谷針」。

2月26日,港府正式開始為市民接種新冠疫苗,標誌香港抗疫進入新階段。3個月匆匆過去,迄今全港有超過127萬人接種過新冠疫苗,相當於人口的19.5%,已完成兩劑接種者合計約有92萬,然而與區內一些城市比較,本港疫苗接種步伐仍然明顯滯後。新加坡尚未開放「全民打針」,接種率已有兩成多;若拿內地四大一線城市「北上廣深」跟香港比較,接種率更是差天共地。北京市接種率約有七成半,上海亦有五成,廣州深圳稍稍落後,接種率也有四成。

上月中,政府公布「疫苗氣泡」抗疫策略,以接種疫苗作為日後逐步放寬各類社交距離措施的基礎,在社會引起不少爭議,有人從意識形態角度,批評疫苗氣泡「剝奪」不打針者的權利,亦有人質疑措施無助鼓勵打針。數字不騙人,上月26日,本港累計接種首劑疫苗人數約為86萬,接種率約為13%,回看過去一個月進度,政府出盡九牛二虎之力,基本上也只是保持了原先的接種速度,倘若政府沒有出招,說不定接種步伐還會顯著放緩。衛生防護中心傳染病處主任張竹君日前提到,過去一年多推出那麼多的社交距離措施,目的之一是拖慢疫情等待疫苗,現在疫苗到手,「不知大家還在等什麼」,感慨之情,可謂溢於言表。疫情折騰香港已久,社會上下需要調整心態,重新認識共同利益所在,以正面角度看待「谷針」,齊心協力加快疫苗接種,爭取共贏。

各地政府「谷針」方法林林總總,卻又萬變不離其宗,一是透過公共政策,給予接種者一些權利,二是要不打針者付出一些代價,這兩者有時是一枚銅幣的兩面,有時也可以是截然獨立的操作。至於第三類則是透過物質誘因,諸如派錢派禮品等鼓勵打針,提供者可以是政府,亦可以是私人機構。

■Glossary

生字

drive : an organised effort by a group of people to achieve sth

a devil of a job/time : a very difficult or unpleasant job or time

plus ça change : used as a way of saying that people and situations never really change over time, although they may appear to

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