Hong Kong aims to test 1 million per day in COVID-19 compulsory testing program
HONG KONG — Hong Kong will launch COVID-19 mass testing in March, in a bid to test every resident three times to ferret out infections in the community as the city is expected to see infections grow exponentially.
Announcing the Compulsory Universal Testing program on Tuesday, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said the city’s testing ability must be leveled up to no less than 1 million samples per day in order for the program to succeed.
Hundreds of testing centers in the community will be established.
Lam said although the city’s testing capacity will be greatly enhanced with the nation’s support, if it still cannot cope with the massive workload brought by the universal testing project, some samples will be sent to the mainland for testing.
The move will not harm the residents’ privacy, as all personal data will be kept in Hong Kong and only the bottles and codes will be sent to the mainland, she added.
In a special arrangement, summer break for all kindergartens, primary and secondary schools, and international schools will be moved up to March and April, with students returning to school after the Easter break. School premises then will be used for quarantining, vaccination and the mass testing.
Between the three tests required under the program, residents will be asked to take government-supplied rapid antigen tests at home every day. The government will provide KN95 face masks or masks that provide the same level of protection for residents.
Lam also said all current social-distancing measures will be extended to April 20.
Hong Kong on Tuesday reported 6,211 confirmed infections, with another 9,369 people tested preliminary-positive for COVID-19. Another 39 COVID-19 patients died, bringing the total to 350. Among the newly recorded deaths, 34 were people over 60 years old, and most of them were suffering from chronic diseases and unvaccinated.
Lam said the government will also ramp up its efforts to offer more quarantine and treatment facilities. She said she expects that the city’s isolation units could be increased from the current 5,000 to 12,000 by the end of February. About 16,000 more will be in place in March.
Under the nation’s support, the new isolation projects near Penny’s Bay and Kai Tak Cruise Terminal are expected to offer 10,000 units. The government will also build at least 20,000 more units on five public and private land plots in Lok Ma Chau Loop, Yuen Long and Tsing Yi, she said.
She also said a makeshift hospital will be built in the Lok Ma Chau Loop area, with a size similar to the previous one established near the AsiaWorld-Expo.
The flight suspension mechanism for nine countries — Australia, Canada, France, India, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, the UK and the US — will be extended to April 20, said the Hong Kong leader.
With the “vaccine pass” policy taking effect on Thursday, the current social distancing measures — originally set to expire on Feb 23 — will also be extended on a 14-day cycle until April 20, she said.
The government will further tighten regulations on the number of diners allowed per table and the outdoor mask-wearing policies. Details will be announced later.
Lam expects the vaccination rate for the first dose to reach 90 percent by early March, and that for the second dose to achieve 80 percent by mid-March. She said that 46 percent of those who have had their second shot have also had their booster shot.
The CE thanked the central government for offering timely help when Hong Kong is facing its worst wave of COVID-19 infections. It once again indicates the fact that the central government is always a strong backer of the special administrative region, she said.
Speaking at the briefing on Tuesday, Chuang Shuk-kwan, head of the communicable disease branch of the Centre for Health Protection, said the number of infections will increase exponentially.
Welcoming the universal testing plan, lawmaker Priscilla Leung Mei-fun called on residents to fully cooperate with the government in conducting the tests, to live up to the nation’s all-around support.
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