疫情持续放缓，为特区 *** 进一步放宽限聚措施创造了条件。昨日，安老院及残疾院舍首度容许亲友有限度探访。疫情下的长期分离，大有恍若隔世之感，有人拥抱亲人不肯松开，有人泪流满面，场面感人。人间至珍贵者莫过于亲情，要想亲友探望不至于因为疫情再次爆发而中断，香港就必须继续做好稳控疫情的工作，目前远不是「躺平」的时候。
对院友来说，最难耐的是寂寞，亲友探访对他们是巨大的精神安慰，有助于身体康复。但两年多来疫情一爆再爆，院舍开了又关，关了又开，正常的探访难以为继，院友的孤独感和不安因而增加，令他们产生被家人和社会抛弃的负面情绪，可谓度日如年。特别是第五波疫情来势汹汹，全港逾百万人确诊，九千多人死亡，其中一半以上来自安老院舍，不少人临终前与亲人缘悭一面，再见已是阴阳永隔。纵然保得性命的也日夜担惊受怕，虽然有人隔着玻璃窗一解相思之苦，或者透过手机视频相见，但虚拟场景取代不了真正的见面倾诉。特区 *** 日前宣布容许有限度探访，这是期待已久的好消息，大家都非常雀跃，急盼与亲人重逢。
有人认为，如果将有限度探访提前至母亲节前，意义更大。道理的确如此，但对特区 *** 来说，放宽限聚措施需要稳打稳扎，见步行步，决不能操之过急。毕竟安老院和残疾院舍都是高风险场所，在亲情和生命安全之间，生命当然是第一位的。
从好的方面讲，本港整体疫苗接种率已达九成以上，加上大量市民感染，已初步建成免疫屏障，暂时来看大规模爆疫的风险不高。然而，依靠疫苗或感染得来的免疫力会随着时间推移而减弱，特别是新冠病毒变化莫测，无法排除出现杀伤力和传播力更强的变种的可能性，因此各方还是要小心为妙。对特区 *** 来说，最要紧的是趁着疫情缓和，加快提升「一老一幼」接种率。现时80岁以上长者接种率为六成五，3至11岁儿童接种率刚过七成，距离九成的安全目标尚有相当大的距离。
Easing anti-epidemic measures is not meant to "lie flat" as virus threat remains present
The epidemic situation continues stabilising, creating the conditions for the SAR Government to further ease social distancing restrictions. Implementation of a restricted visiting arrangement kicked off yesterday for the first time in both the residential care homes for the elderly and for persons with disabilities. The long-time separation forced by the epidemic seemed as if for a lifetime. Some visitors hugged their kinsfolk unwilling to let go, some others' faces were covered with tears. Such scenes were very touching. Nothing in the world is more valuable than love and family affection. For such and similar visiting arrangements not to be interrupted due to a new wave of epidemic outbreak, Hong Kong must continue to do a good job in epidemic control. It is still far from the time for us to "lie flat".
For residents in these care homes, loneliness is the most unbearable. Family members and relatives' visits are for them an enormous consolation, which is of help to their physical recovery. But waves of Covid-19 outbreak come one after another over the past two years or so, and care homes have to close and open, then close and open again and again, making it impossible to make any normal visiting arrangement. As a result, residents there have felt increasingly lonely and restless and become obsessed with such negative mood as thinking themselves being abandoned by their families and society. As such, a day was passed as if it were a year. In particular, the fifth wave of outbreak has swept Hong Kong like fury. Over one million Hong Kong residents were confirmed to have been infected. Among them over 9,000 died, and over half of the deceased were residents of these residential care homes. Quite a few were unable to see their kinfolk for the last time before they passed away. The survivors were in a state of anxiety and apprehension. Although some of them could somehow ease their anxiety by seeing their visiting kinsfolk through a window or video chat, such virtual-reality meetings could never be the same as face-to-face ones. The restricted visiting arrangement announced by the SAR Government earlier was a piece of long-awaited good news. Rejoicing, people concerned were looking forward to meeting their kinsfolk again.
There was a view that the restricted visiting arrangement would have been more meaningful were it implemented ahead of the Mother's Day. It is indeed so for the sake of reasoning. But for the SAR Government, easing social distancing rules must be pursued steadily and step by step, so it must refrain from acting with undue haste. After all, both residential care homes for the elderly and for persons with disabilities are high-risk venues. Between affection and life safety, the latter must be put first.
The epidemic situation in Hong Kong is just stabilising, far from coming to an end. Nowadays, the daily number of confirmed cases is about 200 to 300. Such official statistics may not necessarily show the whole truth as some infected citizens may not report their cases. Is such a daily number, a couple of hundred cases, big or *** all? That depends on what is used as a reference. Compared with the daily number, in tens of thousands, in early March, this indeed is much *** aller. But compared with the daily number of over 100 at the most during the fourth wave of outbreak, the current figure still remains high. Tran *** ission chains still exist in the community. A super spreader alone could cause a new wave of outbreak.
As a matter of fact, when quite many people think the epidemic a thing of the past amid general rejoicing, alarm bells already keep ringing. On the eve of the Mother's Day, there was an outbreak in Sky Cuisine, a restaurant in Sheung Wan, with about 30 customers infected. Lockdown at Sai Wan Estate for compulsory testing uncovered 22 confirmed cases, accounting for 1.3 per cent of its all residents. This is an alarm considering that other recent lockdowns only uncovered a couple of cases each. As very high viral loads have been found in sewage samples in and around Kennedy Town, suggesting some potential super spreaders might exist in the area. It is responsible for the University of Hong Kong to advise its students and staff to refrain from dining out in the area.
On the positive side, overall vaccination rate in Hong Kong already reaches over 90 per cent and a large number of citizens have been infected, so a preliminary protective barrier has been raised. Hence the risk for a large scale outbreak seems not so high for the time being. However, immunity gained by vaccination will weaken with the passing of time. In particular, mutation of the virus is unpredictable, and the possibility cannot be ruled out that there may come a more fatal and contagious variant. So everyone had better remain cautious and careful. For the SAR Government, the most urgent task is to boost the vaccination rates of the elderly and children respectively. Right now, vaccination rate for the elderly is about 65 per cent while that for children aged between three and 11 just pass 70 per cent, still a far cry from the safety goal of 90 per cent.
Happy times are always short. Citizens now truly understand it from ups and downs of the epidemic situation over the past two or so years. The only way for Hong Kong to have genuine safety is to maximally expand the coverage of vaccination and at the same time review our anti-epidemic strategy and improve our contingency plans, so as to create the conditions for reopening the border with the Mainland. All in all, Hong Kong cannot afford to relax as there is still a long way to go in fighting the virus.
14 May 2022