Hong Kong will not halt public transportation during mass Covid-19 testing later this month, transport chief Frank Chan has said.

Speaking on Commercial Radio on Monday, the official said there was “no way” that transport would shut down.

Secretary for Transport and Housing Frank Chan. Photo: GovHK.

“There are a lot of essential services in society, such as medical services if you are sick and want to go to the doctor or hospital, or financial services,” Chan said. “So many people still need to go to and from work, and they will need to take public transport.”

“But the capacity, frequency and scale [of public transport services], we believe will be limited,” Chan added.

Photo: GovHK.

Hong Kong is bracing for universal Covid-19 testing this month amid the worsening fifth-wave outbreak, which has seen daily cases in the tens of thousands over the past week.

The city reported a dip in daily Covid-19 cases over the weekend, with 31,008 new infections on Sunday – down from three consecutive days of some 50,000 cases. But authorities cautioned that looking at figures in isolation did not provide a full picture.

Epidemiology experts at the University of Hong Kong have predicted that infections will peak by the middle of the month.

No further clarity on mass testing

Chief Executive Carrie Lam first announced two weeks ago that authorities planned to implement citywide Covid-19 testing in March, during which citizens would undergo three coronavirus tests. She denied that the move was an instruction from Beijing, which has sent anti-epidemic teams to the city to build community isolation facilities in line with its dynamic zero-Covid strategy.

But no timeline, nor further details, has been publicised since. Local media reported that the testing would be carried out over a period of nine days.

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There has also been confusion over whether the universal testing would be coupled with a lockdown. Last week, health secretary Sophia Chan said authorities were considering a lockdown to “to bring out the best effect of compulsory universal testing,” contradicting Lam’s earlier statement that it was “unrealistic” to ban people from leaving their home.

The uncertainty has created anxiety among residents, who have responded by clearing supermarket shelves and hoarding food in the event that they are unable to go out when the time comes.

During his Monday radio appearance, the transport chief dodged questions about when the dates for mass testing would be announced.

Near-empty shelves in a supermarket in Kennedy Town on March 1, 2022. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

“We will try to give citizens sufficient notice in advance,” Chan said, adding that the preparation work was “complex” as it involved multiple government departments.

He added that authorities were mulling details such as allowing one member from each household to leave and buy food during the testing period.

According to media outlets, riot police will be mobilised to assist with the mass testing. They will reportedly escort virus patients to the hospital or community isolation facilities and enforce building lockdowns.

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Hillary Leung

Hillary has an interest in social issues and politics. Previously, she reported on Asia broadly - including on Hong Kong's 2019 protests - for TIME Magazine and covered local news at Coconuts Hong Kong.