A voluntary universal Covid-19 testing scheme which could involve millions of people is set to begin next Tuesday in Hong Kong, partly conducted by personnel from mainland China. Pro-democracy activists and lawmakers have raised privacy concerns, flagging worries that the scheme could collect and funnel citizen’s DNA and personal data to mainland authorities. Some experts, meanwhile, say a universal scheme is a waste of time and testing should targeted. Chief Executive Carrie Lam has dismissed the concerns as smears and “conspiracy theories” and said the free mass testing is essential to restarting the economy.

Government personnel collect sample for coronavirus testing. Photo: GovHK.

On Tuesday, HKFP went to Mong Kok and Prince Edward districts to ask a random selection of people whether they would sign up online for the voluntary testing. The response was mixed, with several saying they would do so for the safety of loved ones while others were sceptical about the effectiveness of mass testing. Some were indifferent to the scheme. Several people approached by HKFP said they would not sign up but refused to reveal their reasons.

“I am still waiting for further details to be released but I would do it because the virus situation is so serious now, and it will put my family members at ease,” said Ms Cheung, a jewellery store assistant in her 20s. Meanwhile, Mr Chan, a 50-year-old, also said he would join the testing scheme to protect his family. 

Mr Lee, a 64-year-old estate maintenance worker, will also sign up: “It will be a good thing for everyone,” he said, suggesting that the more people signed up, the better the spread of the virus would be contained.

Mr Lee said getting tested would be beneficial for the whole community. Photo: Rhoda Kwan/HKFP.

Others were more cynical of the scheme and of the Lam administration. Mr Wong, a 49-year-old van driver, said he would not trust the government. “I will not [sign up] because, one, I have not been to the mainland, and two, I know how to protect myself from the virus. I know not to touch my nose, mouth and face. Also, I think the current government is useless.”

A couple of people whom HKFP approached seemed indifferent to the scheme. Mr Chan, a 40-year-old construction worker, said that “It’s too bothersome.” This sentiment was echoed by Ms Cheung, a florist, who said: “I just don’t see a need for it.”

Another florist in her 50s also said she didn’t see the point. “What’s the use of even talking about it? Of course not. I don’t even go out much so I don’t think I will be infected. Also, there’s no vaccine yet, so what’s the point”?

Others cited prior testing as a reason not to take a re-test. “For the moment, no, because our company has already provided us with testing,” said a female shopkeeper at a Chinese herbal store in her 30s.

Ria, a Filipino foreign domestic helper, said she would like to be tested but did not have enough holidays to do so. Photo: Rhoda Kwan/HKFP.

Although Secretary for the Civil Service Patrick Nip has announced that the scheme will also be made available to foreign domestic workers, their employment arrangements may prevent them from taking advantage.

“I would like to go, but I have no holidays for the next two months,” said Ria, 39. “My friends are telling me i should get tested.”

Some were still undecided. “I think I need more specific details of the scheme before I decide whether to get tested,” Ms Cheng, a housewife in her 50s, told HKFP. “If there are specialists performing the testing, then I will go, but if they just give me a bottle to do it myself I won’t bother.”

Mr Tam said people would be stupid to not sign up for the testing scheme. Photo: Rhoda Kwan/HKFP.

For Mr Tam, 72, the decision was easy. “Why wouldn’t you do it? I can just register online. It’s not about whether to trust the government. It’s free and it’s OK. And you will know whether or not you have the virus. It’s important to know the state of your own health and body. You would be stupid to not get tested and then die from the virus.”

Some approached by HKFP said they would not sign up for testing but were evasive when asked for their reasons. One temporary mall worker in his early twenties simply replied “no reason.”

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Rhoda Kwan

Rhoda Kwan is HKFP's Assistant Editor. She has previously written for TimeOut Hong Kong and worked at Meanjin, a literary journal. She holds a double bachelor’s degree in Law and Literature from the University of Hong Kong.