Lifting anti-pandemic measures with caution

【明報專訊】Despite the deep worry of the World Health Organisation about the global spread of the Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus, some countries have still decided to lift their anti-pandemic restrictions in the coming summer. The British prime minister has announced his plan to ''restore people's freedoms'' in England on July 19. Singapore has also decided to change its anti-pandemic strategy, forgoing the target of ''zero infection'' and adopting the strategy of reopening in stages. As the COVID-19 virus will never be eradicated from the world, in the long run mankind must, with the help of vaccines and antivirals, ''live with the pandemic''. The question is how to find a safe transition to this ''new normal in the future''. Although the UK has a high inoculation rate, some experts have warned that lifting all the restrictions with undue haste is not only highly risky, but may also lead to the creation of ''variant factories''. In Hong Kong, although we are approaching the target of zero infection, there is no need to take risks before the vaccination rate target has been achieved. The top priority now should be to enhance the city's efforts in boosting inoculation, thus creating the conditions for the transition to the new normal, and to keep a close eye on the experiences of the lifting of restrictions in other countries and draw lessons from them.

Because of the relatively satisfactory rates of vaccination in rich countries in Europe and North America, a number of countries have pushed for reopening recently. In the US, the number of domestic travellers on the recent Independence Day holiday was already back to the level before the pandemic. The casino city of Las Vegas was even crowded with tourists. In the EU, the digital COVID certificate scheme rolled out on July 1 marks a major step towards normalised passenger traffic and tourism. People who have been vaccinated or have antibodies against the virus can be exempted from quarantine requirements when crossing borders within the EU by showing their vaccination certificates. In the UK, Prime Minister Boris Johnson also announced yesterday (July 5) the last stage of the easing of anti-pandemic measures. All anti-pandemic restrictions in England will be lifted on July 19. Measures such as mandatory mask wearing, social distancing and restrictions on commercial activities will be withdrawn. British citizens returning from regions of medium or low risks will not be required to undergo home quarantine.

In theory, when the inoculation rate of COVID-19 vaccines is high enough and there is a significant drop in the incidence rate and mortality rate concerned, a country or region becomes eligible to loosen anti-pandemic measures. However, no one knows how high a vaccination rate will be sufficient for a country or region to loosen anti-pandemic measures substantially at ease. Everyone can only experiment their way onwards. Too much impetuousness may lead to mishap at any time. The British Medical Association has warned that in view of the current situation of the pandemic and the number of people hospitalised with the disease, the authorities should not remove all the anti-pandemic measures in the middle or at the end of the month. An advisor to the UK government on response to COVID has even pointed out that the thought of treating COVID-19 as influenza when only half of the population has been vaccinated is ''frightening''. Allowing the disease to spread freely without any guard can cause the evolution of even fiercer variants.

The inoculation rate in Hong Kong has sped up recently. The number of vaccinated people has increased to 2.4 million, or 35% of all who are suitable for a jab. The authorities predict that there is a chance of achieving a 50% vaccination rate by the end of the summer. At the moment, the government's top priority should be joining hands with various sectors of the community to boost the inoculation rate in an all-out effort, so as to create the conditions for lifting restrictions and reopening the border in the long run. At the same time, it should also keep a close eye on the experience of lifting restrictions in places like the UK and the US. It should have a good grasp of the suitable pace and timing of reopening and should never act with undue haste.

明報社評 2021.07.06:留意外地解封經驗 香港谷針做好自己





■/ Glossary 生字 /

forgo /fɔːˈɡəʊ/

to decide not to have or do sth that you would like to have or do

impetuousness /ɪmˈpetʃuəsnəs/

the quality or fact of doing things suddenly, without considering the results of your actions

all-out /ˌɔːl ˈaʊt/

using or involving every possible effort and done in a very determined way


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