Take the middle road on jab passes

It wasn’t a slip of the tongue when the city’s de facto vaccine minister Patrick Nip Tak-kuen made a comment not ruling out the possibility of allowing only vaccinated people to enter some premises in future.

In other words, he’s giving serious consideration to the idea.

If Nip’s boss, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, agrees at some point to bar the unvaccinated from entering certain venues, Hong Kong would not be the world’s first to go that far in the ongoing battle against Covid.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson also mentioned sometime ago the probability of allowing only the vaccinated to enter nightclubs and venues where large crowds gather. It was even suggested a decision would be made as soon as the end of September.

It seems that even the UK can be a latecomer on this. Israel became the first to reopen itself to nearly normal social life after almost every citizen was vaccinated during the country’s first vaccination drive.

Israel is now in a new drive to administer a third booster jab to its people who have been fully vaccinated for five months or longer. Prior to the emergence of the Delta variant, Israelis were free to take off their masks and visit all venues by showing a green pass.

A vaccination pass or passport for some venues is not a new concept, but some have experimented with it more successfully than others.

Israel has been able to launch it with little opposition. However, Britons and the French have staged huge protests for a few weekends to decry such a plan. The British media reported that Johnson might not proceed, citing a leaked document saying “no final policy decision” was taken.

What Nip may be thinking is sound in science, but not necessarily in public administration.

Certainly, this would not be an issue in the mainland where citizens are used to living under close state supervision. Hongkongers are not used to living that way – and want to keep the freedom so central to their way of life.

It may be inevitable that the administration will eventually introduce a pass of some kind. When it does, the mainland example would be too strict for the SAR to copy, but the laissez-faire approach of the West may not suit Hong Kong either.

Perhaps Nip should advise taking a middle of the road approach that would be acceptable to most people.

Nip was right in asking people to get vaccinated. As a matter of need, Hong Kong cannot remove all remaining social distancing measures until a large number of the population is fully vaccinated.

It was too soon for Dr Leung Chi-chiu to give a thumbs down to the idea of letting only the vaccinated visit some premises. But he did make a valid point that certain venues were essential and should remain open to the unvaccinated.

It makes sense to differentiate the essential from the non-essential.

For example, if a pass is introduced, could it start with public swimming pools where swimmers now go with little restriction after registering their visit at the entrance?

It is time to start giving some thought to this controversial idea.

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