【明報專訊】The city's pandemic situation has become quite worrying with increasing reports of infected residents in Tuen Mun, including a primary six student. The Centre for Health Protection (CHP) has warned that there may be hidden transmission chains in the district. As the number of local Omicron cases continues to grow, many schools have been included in the compulsory testing list. Compared with most secondary school teachers and students who have already been vaccinated, children aged under 12 have yet to receive the jab and are therefore at particularly high risk. If they catch the disease, it is highly likely that the elderly and the weak in their family will also get infected by the virus they bring home. Although the government's announcement of suspending in-person classes at primary schools and kindergartens starting this Friday will have significant ramifications, it is a necessary step to take. What has been done on the mainland and in overseas countries shows that COVID-19 vaccines can be administered to children under 12. The Hong Kong Government has decided to lower the age threshold for the Sinovac vaccine to five, which can help protect children. If the BioNTech vaccine also obtains the approval, parents will have an even wider choice of vaccines. Vaccinating children is an important step towards city-wide immunisation. The authorities should step up publicity efforts to explain and reinforce the importance and safety of vaccinating children to parents.
After an earlier case of a suspected transmission of the virus at a North Point restaurant from an infected female flight attendant's mother to a surveyor who lives in Tuen Mun, more cases involving Tuen Mun residents have also been reported recently. The parents and the younger brother of a saleswoman diagnosed earlier were also infected. The case of the infected family of four in Tuen Mun is a concerning one. An investigation shows that the father, who runs a pharmacy in Tuen Mun, is likely to have been the first in the family to catch the disease. The authorities have found that an infected male Cathay Pacific flight attendant visited the pharmacy at the end of last month. As the owner of the pharmacy, the father did not see a doctor even though he had developed symptoms of fever on New Year's Day. Days later, his wife and son, a primary six student, got a fever successively and had to see a doctor. Because the aforementioned pharmacy had customers every day, if the father who owns it had already been infected more than 10 days ago, it would be likely that the spread of the virus has been going on for quite some time.
Given the fact that many of the infected people live in Tuen Mun, the CHP suspects that there are hidden transmission chains in the district. Normally, unvaccinated Omicron patients have a higher viral load than vaccinated ones and are therefore more likely to spread the disease. In the latest wave of outbreaks, citizens should learn from these cases—the female flight attendant's mother, the Tuen Mun surveyor and the family of four were all unvaccinated.
Now is the critical moment to halt the spread of the fifth wave before it develops into a tsunami. The measure of suspending face-to-face classes at the city's primary schools and kindergartens until the end of the Lunar New Year holiday has to be taken because there are no alternatives. Primary school students are bound to have weaker anti-epidemic awareness and self-care capabilities than secondary school students, let alone those still in kindergarten. In the case of an Omicron outbreak at a primary school or a kindergarten, one cannot rule out the possibility of a great number of students being infected and carrying relatively high viral loads. They may spread the virus to their families. And if any senior member of these families has not been vaccinated, the threat will be even greater.
The Hong Kong government announced yesterday (11 January) that children aged five or above will be eligible to get a Sinovac shot. Outreach teams will be sent to schools to provide vaccination services for students, marking a new stage of the COVID vaccination programme in Hong Kong. The authorities should encourage parents to allow their children to get vaccinated.
threshold : the level at which sth starts to happen or have an effect
reinforce : to make a feeling, an idea, etc. stronger
eligible : a person who is eligible for sth or to do sth, is able to have or do it because they have the right qualifications, are the right age, etc.