Editorial:Orderly Implementation of Vaccine Passports

【明報專訊】The COVID-19 variant Omicron has emerged in the community. Hong Kong's fight against the pandemic is hanging by a thread. Whether social distancing restrictions need to be tightened will depend on the development of the pandemic situation over the next few days. Those who have not received a vaccine should do so as soon as possible.

At present, the cases of local transmission of Omicron in Hong Kong have all been related to the Moon Palace restaurant at Festival Walk. No cases of unknown origin have been found for now. However, as people infected with Omicron may be asymptomatic and there are still six diners on that particular day who have yet to be tracked down, it remains to be seen whether the virus has already spread widely in the community. The Omicron variant is less lethal than the previous dominant virus strains. It is easy to take the variant lightly and even mistakenly shrug it off as ''just the flu''. However, local experts have pointed out that COVID-19 is the most contagious of all pandemics over the past century. Among the known variants of the virus, Omicron has the most staggering transmissibility, with a high basic reproduction number of 6 to 10 under the circumstance of zero anti-pandemic measures. This means one carrier of the virus can infect 6 to 10 people. Once a large-scale outbreak occurs, Omicron can still overwhelm the entire healthcare system.

The Lunar New Year is approaching. If the pandemic situation in Hong Kong takes a sharp turn for the worse, the tightening of social distancing restrictions will be something that needs to be stomached reluctantly, even though it will dampen the festive mood of the Chinese New Year holidays. The city is on the brink of a fifth wave. In the past two days, citizens' vaccination against COVID-19 has rebounded significantly. The number of people receiving the first dose within a single day has bounced back to over 10,000, but the overall vaccination rate in Hong Kong is still only around 70%. The vaccination rate of elderly people aged over 70, who need the jab for protection against the virus more than anyone else, is still less than 50%. There are still more than 600,000 people who have not gotten the jab.

Public health is of overriding importance. Pandemic restrictions cannot be done willy-nilly. After all talk of reason is done, it will be time for taking more forceful and effective measures to boost the vaccination rate. Many countries have vaccine passport systems, which have shown noteworthy effects in boosting the vaccination rate. France is a success story, and precedents are many for Hong Kong to reference. Compared with some Western countries' imminent mandatory vaccination plans, vaccine passports are already a relatively mild measure. There is not any bone of contention to be seen on the ideological level. The immediate question is not whether to do it, but how to do it well.

COVID-19 vaccination is free of charge. Unlike the use of the ''LeaveHomeSafe'' app, there is not an apparent problem of a digital divide. People without a mobile phone can use physical vaccine cards or vaccination records in paper forms. As for exemption arrangements, except for children whose vaccination has yet to be approved, very few people—only those who have proof of unsuitability for vaccination as supported by a medical certificate—can be exempt from vaccination when entering specific venues. The specific operation should be easier than that concerning ''LeaveHomeSafe''. As shown in the execution of such measures in foreign countries, falsified vaccination records are a relatively common problem. The authorities should study how to deal with it as soon as possible and formulate penalties that can serve as a deterrent.

明報社評 2022.1.4:疫苗護照有序推展 谷針過年大我為先


目前本港出現的Omicron本地感染個案,全都跟又一城望月樓有關,暫未發現源頭不明個案,惟因Omicron感染者未必有病徵,加上當日仍有6名在場食客未能追蹤到,病毒是否已在社區廣泛傳開,仍需時間觀察。Omicron致命性,比之前的主流病毒株為低,容易令人掉以輕心,甚至誤以為可以將它當成流感,然而本地專家指出,新冠病毒是百年來歷次疫情大流行中傳播力最強的一次,而在已知變種病毒株中,則以Omicron傳播力最為驚人,在沒有防疫措施介入下,基本繁殖數高達6至10,意即一人可以傳染6至10人,一旦大規模爆發,仍可壓垮整個醫療系統 。




■/ Glossary / 生字 /

brink:a situation when you are almost in a new situation, usually a bad one

overriding:more important than anything else in a particular situation

deterrent:sth that makes sb less likely to do sth


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