Hong Kong will soon begin a programme aimed at testing millions of people for coronavirus with the help of mainland China staff, even as the city saw a dip in the number of daily infections following a sudden spike last month.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam revealed details on Friday of the voluntary programme starting on September 1, which will last for no more than 14 days, and rejected “conspiracy theories” about mainland involvement.
Citizens who are interested must make an online reservation and give details including their name, Hong Kong ID card number and mobile number. They also need to select a community testing centre near their home and pick a date and time for the test.
Secretary for the Civil Service Patrick Nip said the nasal and throat samples collected would only be used for Covid-19 testing and would be destroyed afterwards. No personal information will be labelled on the sample bottles which will not be transported outside the city, he said.
“Those doing the tests will only know the serial number of the specimen bottle, they wouldn’t know whose specimen it is,” Nip said.
Opposition lawmakers and district councillors had questioned the protection of personal data privacy during the universal testing. Some expressed fears that DNA specimens would be sent to mainland China, but Nip said the tests would only be carried out in local laboratories.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam said the government had not set a target for total participants but said she hoped people would take part to “help themselves and society recover.” Hong Kong’s population is 7.5 million.
“I cannot set a rigid target for my colleagues, this is not a completely normal circumstance in society. Every time [the government] does something, people have conspiracy theories. We hope citizens can spend a very little time to take part in this community testing,” she said.
The Hong Kong leader said authorities would monitor the development of the outbreak closely and observe whether the decline in cases continued. They would meet representatives from the catering industry and other affected sectors to see if restaurants could be allowed to open in the evenings, and whether businesses such as cinemas and beauty parlours can reopen.
Hong Kong still has relatively few coronavirus cases. On Friday, it registered 27 new cases, bringing the infection tally to 4,631 with 75 deaths.
Lam also said Beijing has given the green light for Hong Kong to adopt a health code, under which people who test negative would be allowed to cross the border to visit China’s Guangdong Province and Macau.
Secretary for Innovation and Technology Alfred Sit said the health code was aimed at avoiding a 14-day mandatory quarantine for people who often cross the border. He said the code would only store the applicant’s name, immigration information, test result and the name of the organisation that conducted the test.
“The whole process fully complies with the requirements under the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance… the Hong Kong health code does not have any tracking functions,” Sit said.