Hong Kong to Start Virus Testing for Entire City on Sept. 1


Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said the city will kick off a campaign to test its entire population for the novel coronavirus on Sept. 1, in the first such effort attempted outside of mainland China.

Aided by Chinese experts and labs, the blitz will last as long as two weeks. All residents are entitled to a free, one-time test. Unlike similar mass testing drives in the Chinese cities of Wuhan and Dalian, this is on a voluntary basis.

“Hong Kong will be much better equipped to deal with the possible next virus wave now,” said Lam at a press briefing Friday afternoon. She expressed gratitude to China, saying that Hong Kong would not have been able to conduct mass testing on its own.

The resource-intensive effort could help break hidden chains of transmission by detecting asymptomatic carriers, but it’s unclear how many among the city’s over 7 million population will come forward for testing. As China tightens its grip over Hong Kong in the form of a controversial national security law, the mainland-backed testing drive could provide a gauge of mass sentiment toward growing Chinese influence.

“For yourself, for others, for public health, we hope more people can participate,” said Lam. “We’ve not set ourselves any target for total testing numbers. This test is completely voluntary.”

In early July, after a long stretch of virus-free life, Hong Kong’s worst outbreak emerged that now accounts for more than two-thirds of its total 4,600 cases. After imposing its strictest-ever social distancing measures, daily cases have steadily fallen, with 27 new infections reported Friday.

Who’s Paying

The laboratory costs for this mass testing drive will be covered by the Chinese government while Hong Kong authorities will pay for costs related to sample collection, transport and public promotion, according to Lam.

China is also bearing the cost of building a makeshift hospital in Hong Kong.

The government plans to set up various collection centers across Hong Kong’s districts, according to Secretary for the Civil Service Patrick Nip. Nasal and throat swab samples will be collected on site with the assistance of medical personnel, he said.

Testing samples would be discarded after tests are completed, Nip said, and they wouldn’t be sent outside of Hong Kong. Earlier, activists in the city raised concerns that China might use such a testing blitz to collect DNA data.

An online booking system is being introduced to avoid virus spread through overcrowding. Time slots of the first week will be available online first, and the duration of the testing drive can be extended to as long as two weeks based on the demand.

Children below the age of six will not qualify for this free mass testing.

Residents with a negative result will receive a text message, while those with positive results will get a call from the health bureau to arrange hospitalization.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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