City to Covid-test its entire population – reports
Hong Kong plans to test its entire population for Covid-19 and is currently in talks with mainland China regarding the details of the operation, which would require assistance from outside the city, Sing Tao Daily, a local media outlet, reported on Wednesday.
The city of roughly 7.5 million people intends to test one million residents a day, the newspaper said, adding that those who refuse to be tested would face a fine of $1,280. The campaign is expected to start in early March. Specialists from mainland China will be sent to the city to assist local medics, the report added.
Hong Kong officials have not yet issued any official statements on the issue, and they have not commented on the media reports. The news comes as the city struggles to contain a major disease outbreak. New infection numbers in Hong Kong have been hitting records since early February after months without any new cases at all.
On Wednesday, the city authorities confirmed 4,285 new infections and 7,000 more were “suspected” as their confirmation was still pending at that time – partly due to a testing backlog. Chinese President Xi Jinping had earlier called on Hong Kong to take “all necessary measures” to contain the spread of the virus as China continues to pursue its “zero-Covid-19” policy.
On Tuesday, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam asked major property developers to provide accommodation for those who test positive to ensure their isolation, Sing Tao Daily reported on Wednesday. According to the paper, the authorities plan to convert 44 hotels into isolation facilities, which would provide a total of 10,000 rooms.
Additional space may be provided by residential blocks in the city’s Queen’s Hill Village district and the Hang King House of the Lai King Estate, which would make an additional 3,000 rooms available. The authorities are also reportedly considering turning the city’s university dormitories into isolation facilities as well.
Some medical specialists in Hong Kong, however, warn that the measures may not be enough to contain the outbreak. “At current rate of spread, there could be tens of thousands of new cases each day in early March, and we know that not every infection is being confirmed so the number of infections picked up in mass testing could be very large at that point,” Professor Benjamin Cowling, the head of epidemiology at the University of Hong Kong, told Bloomberg on Thursday.
He suggested doing mass testing in April or May when the outbreak “will have subsided” and the city would have enough space to isolate all those who test positive and return to “zero daily cases.”