【明報專訊】In Hong Kong, a fifth wave of the pandemic is looming. The number of cases related to a previously infected Cathay Pacific flight attendant has continued to increase. The government has significantly tightened social distancing restrictions, bringing back measures including the closure of scheduled premises and a ban on dining-in at night-time.
Omicron is bearing down on the city. Yet another flight attendant cluster might have emerged on the heels of the Moon Palace cluster. The Centre for Health Protection announced yesterday (5 January) the addition of 4 preliminary positive cases that may be from an unknown source or suspected to be related to imported cases. As for the mother of the Cathay Pacific flight attendant who was infected earlier, her diagnosis has also been confirmed. In addition, it has turned out that 9 close contacts related to the cluster of infections had boarded a local cruise ship carrying more than 3,000 people for a high seas cruise. Unnerved by this revelation, the authorities recalled the cruise ship hastily. Fortunately, all of the 9 people's preliminary results were negative. It is very lucky indeed that the case of the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which happened the year before last, has not repeated itself.
So far, the number of local Omicron cases in Hong Kong has remained in single digits. However, there is evidence that various sequences of transmissions have already occurred in the community. An investigation by the Centre for Health Protection shows that the infected flight attendant infected her mother, and the latter spread the virus to at least one of her friends in her dance group and a foreign domestic helper. After comparing the genetic analyses of the virus on each carrier, the previously discovered case of unknown origin in Tuen Mun is now believed to be connected to the infected flight attendant. The authorities said that the man of the case with no known source passes Victoria Park in Tin Hau during his usual commute to work, while the flight attendant's mother dances at Victoria Park. However, there should have been a 20-metre distance between the two of them at Victoria Park. While transmission via ''long-distance contact'' cannot be ruled out, a more likely explanation would be a transmission that happened when both of them visited a restaurant in North Point on New Year's Eve. It is currently difficult to say the extent to which Omicron has spread in the community. Government expert advisers estimate that there may be 5 to 10 invisible chains of transmission in the community, meaning that the pandemic situation is extremely precarious.
Omicron is the most transmissible COVID-19 mutant strain that has come about since the outbreak of the pandemic. Over the past two weeks alone, the world has already added more than 11 million cases related to Omicron. The US once recorded over a million cases within a single day, while the UK and France logged record-breaking numbers of over 200,000 daily cases. Although Omicron is not as lethal as the previous COVID-19 strains, the huge numbers of hospitalised patients will still put the healthcare systems of different parts of the world under extraordinary pressure. The number of people hospitalised recently in the US has even topped its counterpart during the peak of the previous Delta outbreak.
During the Lunar New Year holidays in the year before last, the first wave of the pandemic occurred in Hong Kong. Last year's Spring Festival was plagued by the fourth wave. It is quite likely that the Spring Festival will be overshadowed by the pandemic again this year. The Centre for Health Protection says that among the clusters of infected people, the unvaccinated have a higher viral load, while the vaccinated have a generally lower viral load and little or no symptoms. People who have not received the vaccine should do so as soon as possible. The government should also hasten to boost the vaccination rate.
明報社評 2022.1.6：落重藥防疫情海嘯 如常過年談何容易
■/ Glossary 生字 /
unnerve：to make sb feel nervous or frightened or lose confidence
precarious：not safe or certain; dangerous
lethal：causing or able to cause death