Hong Kong’s Chief Secretary John Lee has travelled to Shenzhen with a delegation of government ministers ahead of a meeting with mainland officials to discuss assistance measures to stem the city’s fifth wave of Covid-19.

Residents in Tai Wai wait in line for a Covid-19 test on February 3, 2022. File Photo: Hillary Leung/HKFP.

The delegation led by Lee includes ministers from the departments of health, housing and transport, food and hygiene, home affairs, mainland affairs and security, and other related bureaus, a government statement said. It comes as daily infection numbers rose by 1,325 on Friday.

They will attend a second meeting on Saturday with officials from the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office, the central health and disease prevention authorities, as well as officials from the Guangdong and Shenzhen local governments.

They are expected to discuss potential mainland aid to bolster the city’s anti-epidemic efforts as well as the assurance of goods imported from the mainland, the government spokesperson said.

Hong Kong saw vegetable prices shoot up this week after several truckers tested positive for Covid-19 at the border whilst shuttling fresh produce from the mainland to Hong Kong. It led to shortages and significant delivery delays.

Anthony Wu, the chairman of a commercial Covid-19 testing service provider currently working with the government, said that Hong Kong officials are expected to request mainland assistance for increasing the city’s testing capacity.

Massive, hours-long queues were seen across various districts over the past week as more residents were required to undergo mandatory testing after visiting locations frequented by coronavirus patients. Reports emerged of people selling and using counterfeit tickets online for up to HK$200 each.

Mainland assistance ‘necessary’

The city’s coronavirus testing capacity has reached its limits, Wu said during a Commercial Radio programme on Friday. If the city was to raise its testing capacity, it would be necessary to request help from the mainland, he said. The central government may be able to send over 1,000 lab workers to the city and raise Hong Kong’s current capacity of 200,000 tests to over one million.

File photo: GovHK.

“Laboratories in Hong Kong have – for example – 3,000 lab workers, who used to do 30,000 or 50,000 tests a day, but now they are asked to run 300,000 [tests] a day. The number of workers is fixed, how can you multiply [capacity] in a short time?” he said.

Wu said around 200 to 300 lab personnel have begun arriving in Hong Kong as the city prepares to triple its testing capacity by re-opening a temporary virus screening centre in Ma On Shan within the month. The centre will be operated by BGI Group, which owns the testing company of which Wu is chairman, according to HK01.

The mainland sent over 600 personnel to work at the Ma On Shan centre during a wider outbreak of Covid-19 in 2020 to screen test samples collected from the voluntary universal testing scheme at the time, the former head of the Hospital Authority said.

DAB lawmakers met the press on Friday, February 11, 2022. Photo: DAB.

Eighteen pro-Beijing lawmakers of the DAB party submitted an open letter to Chief Executive Carrie Lam on Friday afternoon, urging the city to “immediately request the mainland to send personnel” to assist with its anti-epidemic efforts.

Their demands included requesting that Covid-19 experts be sent to Hong Kong to set up more temporary testing labs to ramp up screening, to set up a temporary hospital, and to import more Chinese medicine that mainland authorities claimed were effective in preventing and curing Covid-19.

File photo: GovHK.

Of Friday’s new cases, two were imported and 1,323 were local. Among those whose genome sequencing had been completed, 1,270 were suspected Omicron infections, while 24 were believed to carry the Delta variant.

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Selina Cheng

Selina Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist who previously worked with HK01, Quartz and AFP Beijing. She also covered the Umbrella Movement for AP and reported for a newspaper in France. Selina has studied investigative reporting at the Columbia Journalism School.