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Editorial:Hong Kong's health code scheme and the reopening of borders with mainland

【明報專訊】HONG KONG has basically brought the number of COVID-19 cases to zero, and the vaccination rate has reached 60%. However, there is still not a timetable for the reopening of borders with the mainland. The Chief Executive has said that she is seeking to communicate with mainland experts to understand the mainland's requirements for the quarantine-free reopening of borders. Some lawmakers have expressed concern about whether the issue is related to the fact that Hong Kong has not introduced a ''health code'' scheme.

The Delta variant is raging. Earlier, there were outbreaks in many mainland provinces and cities. The authorities took drastic action to fight the pandemic. They took about a month to stamp out the pandemic, which once again demonstrated the mainland's ability to keep bringing COVID-19 cases to zero. Foreign media outlets have described China as the first country to successfully bring a Delta pandemic under control. In light of the pandemic situation on the mainland, the Hong Kong government halted the ''Return2hk'' scheme at one point. Yesterday (September 8) the related arrangements were fully resumed, with the government also announcing the launch of the ''Come2hk'' scheme next Wednesday that will allow non-Hong Kong residents from the mainland and Macao to come to Hong Kong without having to be in quarantine. The scheme will have a daily quota of 2,000 people. For mainlanders who need to come to Hong Kong, the ''Come2hk'' scheme certainly has its advantages. But the problem is the difficulty to go to mainland China, since people going to mainland China from Hong Kong will still have to undergo the ''7+7+7'' quarantine arrangements (7-day centralised quarantine, 7-day home quarantine and 7-day health monitoring at home). As a one-way relaxation measure launched by the Hong Kong government, the ''Come2hk'' scheme will make it easy to travel to Hong Kong, but not to return to the mainland. It will not be very effective in attracting mainlanders to come to Hong Kong. To give a fresh impetus to Hong Kong's economy, the borders between the two regions must be reopened as soon as possible.

Hong Kong has experienced many setbacks and reversals in fighting the pandemic. In recent months, it has finally found a set of methods of its own to bring the case number to zero. As for vaccination, although the vaccination rates for the elderly and young people are still not ideal, the overall vaccination rate rose significantly in the summer holidays in Hong Kong. The latest figures show that more than 4.2 million people in Hong Kong have been vaccinated, equivalent to 63% of the population that can be vaccinated. In the West, some countries rely on high vaccination rates and intend to go down the path of herd immunity rather than try to being case numbers to zero. They have relaxed pandemic restrictions massively, which has resulted in a major rebound of case numbers. Recently, many unvaccinated people in the US have fallen seriously ill and died of COVID-19. There is still a long way to go before the goal of universal vaccination can be reached. As Hong Kong has basically brought case numbers to zero, reopening the borders with the mainland is the most reasonable strategy. It is regrettable that there has not been a specific timetable so far.

In May last year, the Hong Kong government mentioned the possibility of the mutual recognition of the health code schemes of Guangdong, Hong Kong and Macao. In September that year, the government even stated that the testing of the system of Hong Kong's health code scheme had been roughly completed, and that it would ''depend on the pandemic situation in Hong Kong'' as to when the scheme would be implemented. There was even a preliminary outline of the scheme's specific mode of operation. Government officials stated that there would be a limit on the number of people. In the initial stage, only people who needed to visit relatives, for instance, would be allowed to apply. But there has been a lack of progress since then.

As the Hong Kong government has decided to give priority to the reopening of borders with the mainland, it should remain committed to this goal. The government should tell the public what kind of problem it has run into concerning the reopening of borders so as to allow society to discuss what choice to make or explore a compromise solution.

明報社評 2021.09.09:「港康碼」難產惹疑惑 通關阻滯弄清原委

香港疫情基本清零,疫苗接種率亦達到六成,惟與內地通關仍未有時間表。行政長官表示,正尋求與內地專家對接,了解內地對免隔離通關的要求,有議員則關注,問題是否在於香港未推出健康碼。

Delta變種病毒肆虐,早前內地多個省市亦出現疫情,當局雷厲風行防疫,花了大約一個月時間平息疫情,再度展示內地「可持續清零」的能力,外媒形容中國是首個成功控制Delta疫情的國家。港府一度因應內地疫情,暫停「回港易」計劃,及至昨天,相關安排得以全面恢復,當局同時宣布,將於下周三推出「來港易」計劃,容許內地及澳門非香港居民來港免隔離,每日名額上限合計2000人。對於有必要來港的內地人,「來港易」當然有其好處,問題在於北上難,由香港返內地的人,仍須接受「7+7+7」檢疫安排(7天集中隔離、7天家居隔離、7天居家健康監測)。「來港易」作為港府單向放寬措施,方便「來」不方便「往」,吸引內地人來港作用有限,若想為香港經濟注入更多動力,必須早日恢復兩地正常通關。

香港抗疫跌跌撞撞累積經驗,近月總算找到一套屬於自己的方法,做到基本清零;疫苗接種方面,雖然長者及年輕人接種率仍不理想,惟整體而言,這個暑假,全港接種率已有顯著提升。最新數字顯示,香港已打針人口超過420萬,相當於可接種人口的63%。在西方,部分國家憑仗接種率高,欲走群體免疫而非清零抗疫路線,全面放寬防疫措施,代價是疫情大反彈,近期美國便有不少未打針者染疫病重死亡。全民接種目標尚遠,香港既已做到基本清零,爭取先跟內地通關,是眼前最合理選擇,可惜迄今仍未有具體時間表。

早於去年5月,港府便提到粵港澳健康碼互認互通的可能,同年9月,當局更表示「港康碼」系統測試已大致完成,何時實施「視乎香港疫情」,就連具體操作模式也有初步輪廓,官員表示將設人數限制,初期只限探親等有需要人士申請,云云,惟之後一直缺乏進展突破。

港府既已決定優先與內地通關,就不應三心兩意,通關問題究竟卡在哪裏,當局說出來,社會才能討論做選擇,又或探討折衷做法。

■/ Glossary 生字 /

stamp sth out:to get rid of sth that is bad, unpleasant or dangerous, especially by using force or a lot of effort

halt / hɔːlt /

to stop; to make sb/sth stop

resume / rɪˈzjuːm /

if you resume an activity, or if it resumes, it begins again or continues after an interruption

■英語社評聲檔:link.mingpao.com/53000.htm

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