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Voluntary test of all HK residents for Covid-19 to start in two weeks

07 August 2020

By Daisy CL Mandap

CE Lam is asking for cooperation from the public in the conduct of the expanded testing

Each one of Hong Kong’s 7.5 million residents will be eligible for a free coronavirus test in two weeks’ time, said Chief Executive Carrie Lam in a press briefing today, Aug. 7.

Lam said the tests, which will be carried out with help from experts from mainland China and private laboratories, will be voluntary, and the identities of individuals who get tested made known only to the Department of Health.

But ahead of the expanded testing, she said certain sectors, including foreign domestic helpers who are temporarily staying in boarding houses of employment agencies, will be tested.
The chief executive appealed for the public’s support and cooperation in the undertaking, saying that testing remains an important component in the early detection, isolation and treatment of infected residents.

She also said that this is a voluntary exercise, so “if people still have concern, they do not have to come forward.”

The statement was apparently aimed at critics who have cast doubt on the reliability of the mainland-led testing.
“We understand the public may have different comments, but this time, it’s a matter of life. I hope society could value science and evidence, and stop all kinds of conspiracies and smearing, especially when it’s the government who seeks the mainland’s help this time,” said Lam.

The city’s top official said the decision to conduct widespread testing was reached after the recent surge in Covid-19 cases, most of them locally-acquired, and close to 50% of them with unknown source.

She also expressed concern over the rapid rise in the death toll, which now numbers 46, most of them elderly patients who passed away only in the past few weeks.
She also cited the 54 positive results from about 137,000 tests conducted among high-risk groups such as taxi drivers, workers at elderly homes, restaurants, markets, slaughterhouses, management companies, schools and residents of higly infested areas.

Among these groups, workers at the Sheung Shui slaughterhouse had the highest infection rate, with five people, or 0.26 per cent of the 1,900 workers tested, returning a positive result.

Extrapolating from the result, Lam said that at one out of every 2,500 cases, the government estimated that there were at least 1,500 undetected cases in the community, proving the need for wider testing.

“Positive cases were found in all kinds of industries, and there have been at least 20 clusters found in the city,” the chief executive said.

Ahead of the mass testing, Lam said certain groups that have frequent contacts with the public, such as postmen, teachers, hotel staff and carers for the elderly, will also be given tests.

Apart from FDHs, another group that will have earlier access to the free tests are pregnant women, who will all be tested at Yan Chai hospital.
A team from the mainland is already in HK to help set up the labs that will process test results
Lam said the government would expand community treatment facilities at the current AsiaWorld Expo exhibition site and an area next to it, providing up to 2,000 beds.
An experimental laboratory using inflatable tents would also be set up at Sun Yat-sen Memorial Park in Sai Ying Pun.

The expanded testing will be carried out with help from three mainland-linked laboratories – BGI, Kingmed and Hong Kong Molecular.

To protect the privacy of residents, their identities will be linked to a barcode on specimen bottles and not revealed to the laboratories. Only health officials would have the link between the barcode and the identity of anyone who tests positive.

The city's top officials said the government would conduct the community testing in a safe, orderly and convenient manner, with no queues and long wait involved.

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