A Hong Kong lawmaker has urged authorities to cancel the need for Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests to enter the mainland as one centre in Sham Shui Po saw would-be travellers queuing until 3 a.m. on Thursday.

Under the current policy, all travellers over the age of three must obtain a negative PCR test result within 48 hours before crossing the border between Hong Kong and the mainland.

Doreen Kong. Photo: Legislative Council, via Flickr.

Tens of thousands of people are crossing in both directions in the run-up to the Lunar New Year starting on Sunday after Beijing this month scrapped its years-long quarantine requirements. Travellers from both sides must still take PCR tests.

Local media said more than one hundred people were still queuing for PCR tests at the community testing centre at Sham Shui Po’s Maple Street Playground after midnight, when the lights were already off. The station completed testing for everyone waiting at around 3 a.m.

Chief Executive John Lee acknowledged the situation was “not ideal” when addressing the issue in the Legislative Council on Thursday morning.

Chief Executive John Lee attending the Legislative Council question and answer session on January 19, 2023. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Lee said only 60 per cent of the city’s total testing capacity was being used on Monday. “We know the problem was not a shortage in supply, but the distribution of information,” he added, as some people did not know spaces were available at other testing centres.

Lawmaker Doreen Kong told Commercial Radio on Thursday she believes most of those queuing at Sham Shui Po were blue-collar workers and many might not have had time to visit other testing centres before 8 p.m., when they stop accepting new registrations.

“Those who work as dishwashers or waiting staff might not be off work yet, how can they be there?” Kong asked.

The lawmaker said the best solution was to cancel the testing requirement altogether.

“Otherwise I am very worried that the demand [for PCR tests] will be greater than our testing capacity as authorities continue to increase the quota for cross-border travel,” she added.

Chief Secretary Eric Chan told the Hong Kong Economic Times that Hong Kong must wait for approval from Beijing before it could drop the PCR testing requirement.

Queues outside another testing centre at Lai Kok Community Hall in Cheung Sha Wan on January 17, 2023. Photo: Doreen Kong, via Facebook.

Ricky Chiu, the founder of test provider Phase Scientific, told the same radio programme he believed the major bottleneck was registration and urged people to make bookings in advance.

“Many people were unclear about the arrangements related to cross-border travel,” he said, adding some were confused about whether the 48-hour window started from the time they received the result or the time they took the test. The latter was correct.

Chiu, whose company operated the Maple Street Playground centre until last September, said it has always been busy.

Chiu, an adjunct associate professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s School of Biomedical Sciences, said that from a public health standpoint “there are not many reasons supporting the requirement for PCR tests.”

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Peter Lee

Peter Lee is a reporter for HKFP. He was previously a freelance journalist at Initium, covering political and court news. He holds a Global Communication bachelor degree from CUHK.