Editorial : HK On Verge of 5th Wave: No Way to Delay Vaccine Bubble Expansion

【明報專訊】APIECE OF BAD NEWS has emerged concerning Hong Kong's pandemic situation, as a case of unknown origin has been reported once again after more than two months. With the Omicron variant suspected to be involved, it is highly likely that the fifth wave of outbreaks is coming. What has happened in other parts of the world shows that those who needed to be hospitalised after being infected by Omicron were mostly unvaccinated. In the face of the threat of a new wave of outbreaks, unvaccinated citizens should get a jab as soon as possible. Those who have completed the vaccination should also receive a third dose before it is too late. The government had originally planned to expand the "vaccine bubble" before the Lunar New Year to boost the vaccination rate. However, as the catering industry was worried that their business during the festival would be affected, the implementation of such measures was delayed until the end of next month, so as to "wait till spring receptions are also held". This again highlights the fact that the authorities are not resolute and decisive enough in fighting against the pandemic—they are too easily swayed by certain groups concerned with their personal interests. In fact, the wish to celebrate the festival by dining outside with one's family can actually be a huge motivation for the unvaccinated elderly people to get jabbed as early as possible. The government should grasp this window of opportunity and expand the vaccine bubble at the end of this month as originally scheduled.

A cluster of infections has been started by a Cathay Pacific flight attendant, who broke regulations to dine in the Moon Palace restaurant at Festival Walk, raising concerns about the possible spread of Omicron in the community. The Centre for Health Protection has reported a preliminary positive case from an unknown source in the city which is highly likely to involve Omicron. The infected person is a Tuen Mun resident, works in North Point; and has never been to Festival Walk or Moon Palace. While investigation is still needed to determine if the preliminary positive case is connected to the 7 known infected people from the Moon Palace cluster, one fact can already be established—the existence of invisible chains of transmission in the community.

The emergence of a case of unknown origin means that a community outbreak is highly possible now. The transmissibility of Omicron is alarming and much higher than that of other known variants of COVID-19, with a basic reproduction number of 6 to 10. This entails that theoretically, an infected person can transmit the virus to 6 to 10 people. All parties should be mentally prepared as the city is on the brink of a fifth wave. The vaccination rate in the city now stands at only 70%, with the figure for elderly people aged over 70 even lower at 38%. In the face of the Omicron threat, the need to boost the vaccination rate has become ever more pressing.

Just days ago, the Secretary for Food and Health announced clearly in advance that the vaccine bubble would be expanded before the Lunar New Year. Citizens must have received at least one dose in order to enter eateries and other scheduled premises. However, after the authorities met with representatives of the catering industry on Monday, Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced yesterday (4 January) that the implementation of the measure will be delayed until the end of next month. Some catering representatives revealed that during the meeting, they voiced concerns that the period before and after the Lunar New Year is a peak season for Chinese restaurants, and that they hoped the implementation of a vaccine passport could be delayed. They described the authorities' latest decision as "following their fair opinions" and so forth.

The remarks by catering sector representatives make one arrive at the conclusion that the government has delayed the plan largely to accommodate the industry, not only to make it easy for them to do business on Lunar New Year's Eve and throughout the Spring Festival, but even for the sake of "waiting" until companies have held their conventional spring receptions. Given that Omicron may have spread rapidly and thus, posing a great hazard to the unvaccinated elderly people, the authorities should reconsider the decision of putting off the vaccine bubble expansion. The pace of boosting the vaccination rate should not be slowed down just to satisfy the industry's wish of "waiting till the Lunar New Year is over".

明報社評2022.1.5:第五波疫情一觸即發 谷針豈能「等埋春茗」








sway : to persuade sb to believe sth or do sth

entail : to involve or cause sth as a necessary or inevitable accompaniment or result

put off : to change sth to a later time or date

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