Hong Kong’s government plans to make Covid-19 tests compulsory in some cases in an attempt to curb further infections, Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced on Tuesday.
The government will roll out the scheme after passing subsidiary legislation under the Prevention and Control of Disease Ordinance in the coming weeks.
“We need to take a targeted approach,” Lam said, adding she was not suggesting that every individual in Hong Kong would have to be tested.
“As we learned in the Universal Community Testing Program (UCTP), it needs to be cost- effective,” Lam told her weekly news conference. The programme will focus on individuals showing symptoms, those involved in minor outbreaks and those in high-risk situations, according to the chief executive.
The voluntary China-backed UCTP, which ran for two weeks in early September, saw around 6,000 health professionals test more than 1.78 million people. The HK$530 million scheme identified 42 new infections.
Asked about potential human rights issues, Lam said the government would take a “balanced” approach. “If you want people to accept mandatory testing, you will need to convince them that it is done with maximum effectiveness.”
She said authorities do have the power to restrict citizens’ freedoms in the context of a public health crisis. “When dealing with public health issues…sometimes the government will have to be strict and resolute.”
Separately, Lam announced the launch of a voluntary Covid-19 tracking app for Hong Kong, which will be available within the week.
The chief executive appealed to restaurant and fitness centre operators as well as taxi drivers to download the app in order to help the Centre for Health Protection better trace sources of infections within the community.
Lam also announced that beaches – which have been closed since late July – would be reopened: “[I]n the afternoon, there will be an announcements about opening of beaches so that members of the public can make use of the warm weather to go for a swim.”
Hong Kong reported eight new infection cases on Monday, all of which were imported. The total number of infections in the city of 7.5 million stands at 5,303, with 105 deaths.