Vaccine bubble a feasible milestone plan

Editorial | Mary Ma 15 Apr 2021

The controversy over Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor's "vaccine bubbles" program is the last thing to wish for in the drive to protect citizens against the pandemic.

There is clearly a sense of deja vu.

When the government announced several months ago that it was launching the Covid-tracing app, the scheme drew lukewarm responses from the public.

But by now, over half the population has installed the app despite the initial reluctance.

It should not be difficult to understand the surge in users as life has become increasingly inconvenient for them unless they use the app. So even some of the diehards have had to give up opposition and start using the mobile tracing app.

It is predictable that the number of app users will continue to increase - especially after the government acted tough on a local fast-food chain and said it would take the measure further to totally ban paper records for tracing purposes.

It is most likely that Lam is betting on a similar pattern in respect of vaccinations.

When people start discovering that their freedom is greatly inhibited unless they become a part of the "vaccine bubbles," even vaccine skeptics will stop hesitating about getting the jabs. This is most likely the government thinking.

Is it a sound policy? Lam insists it is suitable for the local situation.

In Israel, a similar policy is in place - known as the "green passport" over there - that is also a form of vaccine bubbles. The program was launched after a vast proportion of Israelis were vaccinated against Covid.

Britain also seriously considered introducing a vaccine passport of some kind but has not taken it further after the US government came out strongly against requiring Americans to carry them

Vaccine passports and bubbles are bound to be controversial. Predictably, the way the SAR approaches the issue is bound to be clouded by controversies, but Lam is apparently convinced the public will accept it over time.

It's more likely than not that this is the case.

Having said that, officials tasked with enacting the policy have to address the concerns that it may result in incidents of vaccination-based discrimination in society that Equal Opportunities Commission chairman Ricky Chu Man-kin has warned about.

Employers in general do not sack employees for nothing because it costs to recruit too.

Yet it's probable that some employers will dismiss employees who are not vaccinated in exchange for greater freedom to do business under the various steps of social distancing restrictions.

There are also other concerns but these are mostly technical, such as proof of vaccination.

Given the wide circulation of smartphones, it should not be an issue for users to store their records digitally rather than keeping a paper record in the wallet all the time.

The exit roadmap is something new facing society and it will take time for everyone to learn to get adjusted to it.

More fundamentally, the government must look at ways to boost people's confidence in the vaccines.

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