An alliance of health care workers, district councillors and pro-democracy activists urged citizens to boycott Hong Kong’s universal voluntary Covid-19 testing scheme on Sunday. The scheme, officially known as the Universal Community Testing Program (UCTP), saw 420,000 people sign up over the weekend and is set to begin on Tuesday.

The Hospital Authority’s Employees Alliance said that universal community testing is not an effective way of fighting the virus. Instead, it urged for targeted testing as a more efficient way of employing government resources.

Hospital Authority Employees Alliance members. File Photo: Cloud.

Winnie Yu, a spokesperson for the alliance, said at a press conference on Sunday that the government was using the scheme for political means: “It is clear to see that the government has one and only one goal… to use the pandemic to achieve their own political aims,” she said. “They shall do whatever they can to please the central government… even if it means placing politics above all things else.”

She added that the inevitable number of false negatives will undermine the city’s fight against a further spread of the coronavirus: “This will cause a big disaster for the city. Because [those who receive a false-negative result] will think they are healthy, and they will still carry on with their social activities as usual.”

Promotional poster against universal community-wide Covid-19 testing. The poster reads “#No to community-wide testing”, “#Oppose the sending of DNA samples to China”. and “Hongkongers, save yourselves”. Photo: Joshua Wong, via Twitter.

Pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong voiced further concern on his Twitter account on Sunday, saying that the collection of DNA samples opens up the possibility for “more surveillance.” He added that the lack of scientific evidence and the use of an “unreliable,” mainland-owned laboratory, BGI, which was found to have produced thousands of false-positive results by the New York Times earlier this week, should deter Hongkongers from signing up.

Wong also criticised the lack of a border shutdown with the mainland, and the government’s wide exemptions from quarantine for causing the city’s most recent and severe wave of Covid-19 infections.

Another concern cited by the group was the team of some 60 medical professionals sent from the mainland to assist in the testing, which further fuels mistrust towards the scheme.

According to the government, 420,000 people have already registered for the testing scheme as of 6pm on Sunday night. 80 community testing centres, more than half of the city’s 141 facilities, are fully booked for the first day of testing. For the week of September 1 to 7, five community centres have already filled their available testing quotas.

‘Deep regret’

In a statement issued on Sunday, the government expressed “deep regret” at the “false information” regarding the scheme circulating online. It said that the scheme would help identify asymptomatic carriers in the community whilst promotions for the testing scheme urge citizens to be tested “to protect yourself and others.”

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Beijing’s office in Hong Kong released a statement that said a small minority of people had ulterior motives in slandering and smearing the mainland’s gesture in assisting Hong Kong to tackle the pandemic: “They disregard social interest and citizens’ health, politicise pandemic issues, produce and disseminate despicable rumours… Some even violently attack volunteers who promote the universal testing scheme. These people’s sordid acts have exposed their ruthlessness and abhorrence. We believe the general public can tell right from wrong and will not be deluded or misled,” the China Liaison Office spokesperson said.

The waiting area inside a community testing centre. Photo: GovHK video screenshot.

The Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office also said critics did not appreciate the central government’s care for Hongkongers. They “defamed the mainland medical experts qualifications, testers quality and laboratory safety… They are playing tricks or political mutual destruction and used all means to attack the Hong Kong government authority and smear the socialist system with Chinese characteristics, and sow discord among Hongkongers towards their motherland.”

The spokesperson warned in the statement that the national security law was in force as they accused activists of spreading rumours to disrupt order.

Since the start of the city’s Covid-19 outbreak in March, Hong Kong has seen 4,802 cases and 88 coronavirus-related deaths.

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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.