Editorial : The EU vaccine passport scheme

【明報專訊】The summer holidays are approaching. Had it not been for a COVID-19 situation, many people would have started making intense preparations for travel and vacations already. However, in this summer, getting vaccinated is the only choice for those who want to travel. Given the progress in vaccination in Europe and the US, the governments of many countries intend to reopen their borders in the summer. Yesterday (June 1), the European Union's (EU) COVID-19 vaccine passport scheme, which is aimed at preparing for the restart of the tourist industry next month, came into effect. It is believed that the scheme, initially limited to people in the region, will be extended to people in other regions soon if its implementation is satisfactory.

The concept of a vaccine passport had been discussed in the West for a year and became reality yesterday. The EU's COVID-19 vaccine passport scheme officially came into force. EU member states can issue an EU Digital COVID Certificate (EUDCC) to their citizens. On the first of next month, the "D-Day" on which the border will be reopened, citizens of EU member states can present a QR code contained in the certificate to prove that they received vaccination two weeks ago or they have recovered from COVID-19 and have antibodies. They can then be exempt from quarantine arrangements and will be able to travel between member states. Under the EU's plan, the EUDCC will also apply to non-EU countries such as Norway, Iceland and Switzerland. The authorities are working with the World Health Organisation and other organisations, hoping that the certificate will be recognised outside Europe. EU officials have also said there is hope that travellers from the US who have been vaccinated can enter the EU without having to be in quarantine in the summer.

Vaccines are in short supply all around the world. A vaccine passport will only be issued to those who have received vaccination to allow them to cross borders without quarantine. The first beneficiaries of the scheme will definitely be a small number of countries and regions that have enough vaccines. It is nearly certain that but for China, an outlier, the vaccine passport system would be dominated by rich countries in Europe and America. In Hong Kong, there are people who are sceptical about the "vaccine bubble" scheme, arguing that it is a form of discrimination against those who do not want to get vaccinated. However, excluding a handful of people who cannot get vaccinated because of a vaccine allergy, all Hong Kong citizens at least have equal opportunities to get vaccinated.

For Hong Kong to reopen the border with the mainland, there are two conditions that have to be met: a "zero cases" situation that can be basically maintained and a high vaccination rate. Some people are questioning why Macao can reopen the border with the mainland without having to boost inoculation. However, as a cosmopolitan city and financial centre, Hong Kong has a degree of openness to the outside world for which Macao is no match. Furthermore, Macao has maintained a "zero cases" situation for a long time, whereas Hong Kong has seen sporadic surges in cases. There are views in some Western countries that herd immunity is an unreachable goal, let alone a zero cases situation. They believe that COVID-19 will become an endemic disease to a certain extent. If vaccination can reduce the number of cases from the peak by 90%, it can be regarded as successful, they argue. And even if there are still thousands of people or over ten thousand people who are infected every day, that will not be a big problem as long as the medical system can hold up. If Hong Kong wants to open its doors to these countries in the long run and make it convenient for Hong Kong people to travel there, it must significantly boost the vaccination rate first and create full protection against the virus, otherwise it will not be safe.

In addition to striving for a reopening of the border with the mainland, the Hong Kong government should also actively monitor the implementation of the EU's vaccine passport scheme. If progress is satisfactory, the government should strive to join it. Furthermore, the authorities should also make plans for the related supporting measures, such as the antibody testing arrangements for arrivals in Hong Kong, as soon as possible to perfect the gatekeeping mechanism.

明報社評2021.06.02:疫苗護照化為現實 香港谷針快馬加鞭








intense : serious and often involving a lot of action in a short period of time

exempt : if sb/sth is exempt from sth, they are not affected by it, do not have to do it, pay it, etc.

allergy : a medical condition that causes you to react badly or feel ill/sick when you eat or touch a particular substance

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