【明報專訊】As several COVID-19 cases by community transmission have broken out in Guangzhou, the number of medium-risk areas has increased to seven. The source of the cases is foreign-related. 90% of inbound passengers arrive in China through Guangzhou every day. Nearly 30,000 people are kept in quarantine every day in more than 300 quarantine points manned by as many as 20,000 staff. The result of a minor error in such high-risk operations can be catastrophic. Over the past two months, there has been a surge of cases in China's neighbouring countries caused by some complicated variants. But these countries' mechanisms against the virus are highly inadequate. Besieged by viruses coming from these countries, China is under a lot of pressure. What can be done now is to ratchet up measures against imported cases, while the long-term plan is to help China's neighbouring countries improve their anti-pandemic capabilities.
According to the government, the Guangzhou outbreak was ''an incident of infection caused accidentally by an Indian mutant''. It is now known that a traveller returning from Africa via Dubai was kept in quarantine at a hotel in Liwan District. The traveller tested negative for the virus during the quarantine. As for how the virus was transmitted to the ''dim sum restaurant'' cluster, the findings of investigation remain inconclusive. In any case, it is certain that the virus and its source are related to imported cases.
Compared with Europe and the US, Asia has been having lower numbers of cases. But in early April, there was a massive outbreak of cases in India. At the height of the situation, more than 400,000 cases were added every day. Though the situation has eased off recently, still over 200,000 cases are recorded daily. The virus has also spread rapidly to other nations, and the situation in Southeast Asia took a sharp turn for the worse. The Indian variant is characterised by its complicated mutations, high transmissibility and ability to spread quickly. As the vaccination rates in Southeast Asian countries are generally very low, they were defenceless against the Indian variant. Of the countries where the situations are the most serious, Malaysia has recorded a daily average of 8,300 cases over the past three days, while just 3.4% of its people have received two doses. The Philippines has 7,500 new cases per day, and the vaccination rate is only 1%. Indonesia has 6,100 cases every day and a vaccination rate of only 3.8%. Thailand has 3,900 cases per day and a vaccination rate of only 1.6%.
Apart from the vaccination rate, which is a key factor, Southeast Asian countries also have had lax anti-pandemic measures since the beginning. Furthermore, after a long uneventful period, their people showed pandemic fatigue. They also had insufficient protective equipment. When the extremely transmissible Indian variant strikes, these vulnerable countries find it nearly impossible to defend themselves. Malaysia has announced a two-week lockdown nationwide, which can only control the spread of the pandemic.
As there is community transmission in Guangzhou, demand for vaccines has greatly increased. The supply of vaccines in other parts of the country has also been affected, and it is difficult to open its doors and increase the supply of vaccines to other countries. However, China's vaccine production capacity will soon outstrip domestic demand. An increase in the export of vaccines will serve the diplomatic goal of developing good relations with neighbouring countries. When China's neighbouring countries achieve herd immunity sooner, trade and personnel exchanges will also become smoother. This will bring China both fame and fortune.
明報社評 2021.05.31：中國面臨病毒圍城 久守必失宜助鄰邦
■/ Glossary / 生字 /
man：to work at a place or be in charge of a place or a machine; to supply people to work somewhere
catastrophic /ˌkætəˈstrɒfɪk/：causing a lot of destruction, suffering, or death
defenceless / dɪˈfensləs/：weak; not able to protect yourself; having no protection