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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

暑假將至,換了在沒有疫情的日子,不少人早已密鑼緊鼓準備旅行度假,然而這個夏天若想保留外遊機會,打針是唯一選擇。歐美疫苗接種有進展,多國都有意趁暑假開放國門。歐盟「新冠護照」系統昨天正式落地,為下月重啟旅遊業做準備,措施初期限於區內民眾,倘若情况理想,相信不久後可擴展至其他地區人士。

疫苗護照概念,西方談了一年,昨天終於成為現實,歐盟的「新冠護照」簽發系統正式就位,各成員國可以開始向國民發出「數碼新冠通行證」,下月1日就是復常通關「D-Day」,歐盟成員國民眾出示通行證二維碼,證明兩周前已完成疫苗接種,又或染疫康復有抗體,就可豁免檢疫隔離,在成員國之間往來。根據歐盟的計劃,「數碼新冠通行證」將適用於挪威、冰島及瑞士等非歐盟國家,當局正跟世衛等合作,希望通行證在歐洲以外地區得到認可。歐盟官員還表示,來自美國的已打針旅客,今夏有希望免檢疫入境歐盟國家。

全球疫苗供應緊缺,疫苗護照只限已打針者免檢疫出入境,最先受惠者一定是少數「夠針打」的國家及地區,若非存在中國這個異例,疫苗護照制度幾可肯定完全由歐美富國主導。在香港,有人質疑疫苗氣泡措施「歧視」不打針者,然而不考慮小撮因為疫苗過敏無法打針者,全港市民總算有平等打針機會。

香港要跟內地通關復常,疫情基本清零和疫苗接種率高,被視為兩大條件,有人質疑為何澳門毋須谷針也能跟內地正常通關,惟香港作為國際都會和金融中心,對外開放程度非澳門可比;澳門長期清零,亦跟香港疫情反反覆覆有異。時至今日,一些西方國家似已傾向認為,群體免疫目標遙不可及,遑論疫情清零,新冠肺炎某程度將成為風土病,靠疫苗將感染人數由高峰期減少九成已當成功,縱然一天仍有數千人甚或上萬人確診,只要醫療系統撐得住就無問題。倘若香港長遠要向這些國家開放門戶、方便港人到當地旅遊,必須先大幅提高疫苗接種率,為香港建立起全面保護屏障,否則不可能安全。

除了爭取與內地通關,港府亦應積極留意歐洲疫苗護照落實情况,倘若進展理想,應爭取加入,另外,當局亦要及早謀劃相應配套,諸如安排抵港者檢驗抗體,完善把關。

■Glossary

生字

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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