Hong Kong will launch a massive program in March to test every resident three times for COVID-19 in an effort to ferret out any infections in the community after the special administrative region reported 6,211 confirmed infections and 39 deaths on Tuesday. Health authorities warned that exponential growth of infection numbers is expected about every three days.
Announcing the Compulsory Universal Testing program on Tuesday, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said the city’s testing ability will be increased to no less than 1 million samples per day in order to achieve the scale of the testing. Hundreds of testing centers in the community will be established. In a poll released by the Bauhinia Institute think tank on Tuesday, over 70 percent of respondents supported mass testing in the city. In a special arrangement, summer break for all kindergarten, primary and secondary schools, as well as international schools, will be moved to March and April. The new semester will begin after the Easter Holiday. School premises will then be used for quarantine, vaccination and mass testing.
In between the three tests, residents will be asked to take government-provided rapid antigen tests every day. The government will provide KN95 face masks or masks that provide the same level of protection. Lam called on employers to show understanding for their employees to take the universal testing. She said the government will also ramp up efforts to increase the number of quarantine and treatment facilities in response to the possible infection levels found in the mass testing.
She expects that the city’s isolation units could be increased from the current 5,000 to 12,000 by the end of February, and another 16,000 units will be completed in March. In addition, with the help of the central government, the new 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 in five other sites, Lam said.
Lam said all social distancing measures now in force will be extended to April 20. Starting Thursday, all residents over age 12 will have to provide proof of vaccination or medical exemption when entering premises like malls, wet markets and hotels. On Tuesday, Hong Kong reported 6,211 confirmed infections and another 9,369 people testing preliminarily positive for COVID-19.Thirty-nine COVID-19 patients died, bringing total deaths to 350. Thirty-four of the victims were older than 60 and most of them suffered from chronic diseases and hadn’t been vaccinated.
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 is expected to increase exponentially every three days. Top epidemiologist Zhong Nanshan cautioned residents in a video to not underestimate the Omicron variant, which is more contagious than the flu. He stressed that the right to life is the prerequisite for all the other human rights in the fight against the pandemic. On Monday, over 100 members of a nucleic acid testing medical support team from the Chinese mainland began testing at five stations in the city’s hard-hit districts.