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Mandatory testing for Covid-19 being studied amid spike in cases

08 October 2020

By Daisy CL Mandap 

Health officials say they want to make testing mandatory for certain high-risk groups

Two senior Hong Kong health officials have indicated that the government is looking at the legality of requiring all residents to undergo tests for Covid-19 amid signs that the local outbreak is worsening.

Health and Food Secretary Dr Sophia said in a news conference this morning, Oct. 8, that requiring certain groups of people to undergo tests would allow experts to come up with appropriate measures to contain the outbreak.

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Currently, the only ones required to take the test are newly arrived travelers and people classified as close contacts of confirmed patients. A voluntary testing scheme is also in place for people deemed as high-risk, such as care home workers and drivers of public transportation.

Her statement was echoed at a later news conference by Director of Health Dr. Constance Chan, who said, “The coronavirus pandemic is deteriorating, and the situation is worrying.”

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She said in the past week, a total of 12 cases with unknown sources were recorded. The week before, there were only two such cases.

She also said that calculations by experts at University of Hong Kong showed that the reproduction rate of the coronavirus has risen from negative one, to one, meaning one patient is infecting another on average.

The viral load detected in some cases is also high, meaning they are very infectious.

Dr Constance Chan spoke at the daily news briefing on the Covid-19 situation, where it was reported that in the past 24 hours, 18 new cases were reported, of which only 4 were imported. Of the 14 local cases, one had an unknown source.

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Most, or 11 of the cases, were from an outbreak at Home of Treasures care home for disabled people in Kwai Chung, where the first case was reported yesterday.

Dr Chuang Shuk-kwan from the Centre for Health Protection said another patron of the China Secret Bar in Tsim Sha Tsui where nine other cases were linked earlier, was also a confirmed case today.

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Another linked case is a family member of a previously reported infected patient.

The only case with no known source of infection is a 65-year-old male retiree who lives in Braemar Hill Mansions in North Point, and regularly visited the Fitness First gym in Hopewell Centre in Wanchai.

The imported cases included two returnees from India, another from Tunisia, and the fourth was an air crew from Russia.

Dr Constance Chan holds up a graph showing a surge in local cases in the past week 

Dr Constance Chan said that in response to the spike in local cases, the Hospital Authority has extended the operation hours for the distribution of specimen bottles in 46 GOPCs (general out-patient clinics).

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The clinics will  now open from 9am to 1pm, and 2pm to 6pm, Monday to Wednesday, to distribute the bottles to people in high-risk groups.

The government is also considering setting up provisional testing centers in areas where many of the new cases were detected, specifically Kwai Chung, Kowloon City, Tsim Sha Tsui and Wanchai.

In addition, health and tourism officials will meet with hotel representatives to look into the possibility of enforcing gathering regulations in hotel rooms. Dr Chan said they had been informed that many young people use their “staycation” bookings in hotels to hold parties.

She reminded young people of the danger of bringing home the virus that they may acquire from social gatherings, and possibly infect elderly relatives.

The health director said many of the young patients often only have mild symptoms, but the elderly are vulnerable. Nearly 50% of all Covid-19 related deaths were patients 80 years old and above.

But as to the possibility of bars being shut again because of the resurgence in infections among its patrons, Dr Sophia Chan said it would be a last resort.

She said representatives of the bar sector had promised to step up anti-epidemic measures when they met yesterday. These include having their staff tested, and requiring patrons to make health declarations.

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