Revise quarantine for fully jabbed

Editorial | Mary Ma 4 May 2021

Hundreds of Caribbean Coast residents have spent another night in quarantine, including at least one person who has been fully vaccinated against Covid.

He is being locked up with his family at Penny's Bay for 21 days after someone at the same Tung Chung block tested positive to a more infectious strain.

Showing proof to quarantine workers that he has received two jabs has not secured him exemption from quarantine.

This raises a crucial question: should people who have fully vaccinated be spared the lock-up if someone in the same building tests positive for the coronavirus?

Although the local vaccination rate remains low, it is most unlikely that he was the only resident who has vaccinated - whether partially or fully - against Covid.

Others may not have spoken up yet.

Although it makes sense for the health authority to be cautious, it is equally good sense to review whether it is right to stick to the old playbook as vaccine rollouts continue.

The number of people getting vaccinated will only increase over time - even at a rate slower than desired - and health workers will likely be faced with similar cases the next time they descend on a building to round up residents to send to quarantine camps.

When it comes to the question of quarantine, there should be a policy that differentiates between people who have been vaccinated from those who have not. Failing to take this into account will hinder the vaccination rollout.

In the US, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently updated its pandemic advice in light of the vaccination progress being made.

The updated advice states what people may expect to be able to do if they have one dose, two doses or none at all.

The Americans may be moving too quickly in this respect but the CDC is adjusting its responses in parallel with vaccination.

A similar pattern of adjustments is occurring in Britain, although it is more conservative than in the US.

The vaccination rate in Hong Kong is still low at 14.5 percent of the entire population, compared to over 50 percent in the US, more than 40 percent in the UK and about 25 percent in Singapore - all of which are financial centers alongside which the SAR likes to rank.

It is ironic that, while Singapore has agreed to launch the travel-bubble arrangement with Hong Kong, the mainland and Macau remain shut to quarantine-free travel from here.

But reopening the border to quarantine-free travel from the city would help accelerate vaccinations.

Health Secretary Sophia Chan Siu-chee is obligated to bring the quarantine policy up to date. As more people vaccinate, she will find it difficult - if not illogical - to keep the current policy of locking up everyone regardless of their vaccination status.

For one, an updated approach will encourage people to overcome hesitancy to come forward for the jab of their preference.

Second, even if the government task force fails to boost the vaccination curve to a steeper slope, it must stop doing anything that potentially discourages people from receiving the jabs.

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