All Hong Kong residents will have to undergo compulsory Covid-19 testing, Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced on Tuesday. Three rounds of testing will be carried out, Lam said, and up to 1 million tests will be conducted per day.
Hundreds of testing stations will be set up across the city, and the testing order will be determined by birth years. Bookings will be required, and “caring arrangements” will be available for people to accompany elderly relatives or children.
Residents will be asked to conduct daily self-testing between each compulsory test, kits for which which will be provided. Lam said the government would look into legal issues regarding sending specimens back to mainland China for processing, but said it would not involve privacy issues.
Test results would be assigned barcodes, Lam said, and would only be matched with Hong Kong ID card details once returned to the city.
“In the same manner, with the support of the central government – as long as all Hong Kong citizens stand together – we will certainly prevail against the pandemic and meet the rainbow after the storm,” Lam said.
‘Hope pushes us forward’
Compulsory testing will begin in March, and the government will impose more area-specific lockdowns for the time being, said Lam. Regarding whether the government would implement a citywide lockdown, Lam said that it was not “realistic” to ban people from going out. More details on the arrangements for citywide testing would be announced by the Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Erick Tsang.
Lam said that quarantining those who test positive remained the government’s goal, even though there were an estimated 30,000 Covid patients still waiting to be sent to quarantine facilities.
Government departments will have to arrange quarantine facilities for their own civil servants who test positive, said Lam. Universities must use dorms to accommodate Covid-positive students.
The government aimed to reach a 90 per cent first-dose Covid-19 vaccination rate by the beginning of March, and an 80 per cent rate for two doses in mid-March.
“[H]ope is the motivation pushing society forward, while trust is the base of hope. Over the past three years, Hong Kong has been through unprecedented political and social unrest, and the impact of four waves of Covid-19. However, with the backing of the central authorities and efforts from different sectors in society, we have always overcome predicaments and restored order from chaos,” Lam said.
Schools to halt early for summer
Lam said that the current social distancing measures, including the closure of scheduled premises such as gyms, bars, and swimming pools, and no dine-in services at eateries after 6 p.m., would be extended until April 20.
Lam urged citizens to limit unnecessary outings, and employers of foreign domestic workers to discuss rest day arrangements with them.
Schools will have an early summer holiday starting from March or April instead of July, Lam said, and classes will resume after Easter break.
The arrangements will be applicable to all kindergartens, primary, secondary schools, as well as international schools, allowing the vacated premises to be used for testing, quarantine, and vaccination purposes.
Flight bans extended
The ban on flights from nine countries – including Australia, Canada, India, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, the UK, and the US – will be extended until April 21.
The city has recorded more than 50,000 infections since the fifth wave began in late December, led by the more infectious Omicron variant.
Hong Kong recorded 6,211 new infections on Tuesday, three of which were imported cases. To date, the city has reported 66,574 cases and at least 350 deaths.