英文

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 Measures such as mandatory mask wearing, social distancing and restrictions on commercial activities will be withdrawn.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

新冠病毒Delta型變種全球擴散,世界衛生組織深以為憂,不過部分國家仍決定在這個暑假解封防疫措施。英國首相宣布本月19日起,英格蘭民眾將可「恢復自由」,新加坡亦決定改變防疫策略,放棄追求「清零」,改採分階段重新開放的策略。新冠病毒不會在世上消失,長遠而言,人類一定要靠疫苗和特效藥「與疫共存」,問題在於如何才能安全過渡到這個「未來新常態」。英國疫苗接種率雖高,可是一些專家已警告,全面解封操之過急,不僅風險高,還有可能成為「變種病毒工廠」。香港疫情已差不多做到清零,打針率未達標前沒必要冒險,眼下首務應該是加緊「谷針」,為過渡到新常態創造條件,同時密切留意其他國家解封情况,汲取經驗。

歐美富國疫苗接種進度相對理想,最近多國都在推動重新開放。在美國,剛過去的「獨立日」假期,民眾國內出行人數已回到疫前水平,賭城拉斯維加斯更是擠滿遊客。歐盟方面,「新冠通行證」7月1日正式投入使用,為恢復歐盟內部人口流動及旅遊業復常,邁出重要一步,當地民眾若完成疫苗接種或有抗體證明,可以憑着通行證,在歐盟內部免檢疫跨境往來。在英國,首相約翰遜昨天亦公布放寬最後階段防疫措施,於7月19日解除英格蘭防疫限制,不再強制民眾戴口罩,社交距離和商業活動限制亦撤銷,國民由中、低風險地區回國,毋須自我隔離。

理論上,新冠疫苗接種率夠高、發病率和死亡率顯著下降,就有條件放寬防疫措施。可是一個國家或地區的接種率要達到什麼樣的水平,才可放心大幅放寬防疫措施,各方都是摸着石頭過河,太過冒進隨時出事。英國醫學會便警告,以目前疫情及入院數字,不應該在本月中下旬全面解封防疫措施,有當地防疫專家更指出,只得一半民眾接種了疫苗,就想當COVID-19如流感,這種想法「令人恐懼」,任由病毒擴散不設防,有可能演化出更厲害的變種病毒。

最近本港疫苗接種率有所加快,已打針市民增至240萬,佔可接種人口三成半,當局相信暑假完結前有機會達到五成。刻下政府首務應該是伙同各界全力谷針,為長遠解封和通關創造條件,同時密切留意英美等地解封的經驗,好好掌握重開的步伐及時機,千萬不能操之過急。

■/ 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

■英語社評聲檔:link.mingpao.com/53000.htm

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