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Global Times

HK mass testing 'best way' to normalcy

Global Times

By Liu Caiyu, Chen Qingqing and Cao Siqi Source: Global Times Published: 2020/9/1 19:37:01 Last Updated: 2020/9/1 23:22:01

Opposition's smear campaign unprofessional, dismissed by residents

The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) officially kicked off universal nucleic acid testing on Tuesday, which is considered the best way for the southern Chinese city to put epidemic under control, reopen its economy and resume normalcy. As local officials and residents have expected, the local opposition forces have mounted constant campaign to smear government-led preventive measures and politicize the epidemic at the cost of public health.

The massive testing program aims to find silent virus carriers and cut off transmission routes for the city. Close to 600,000 residents have signed up for the testing so far, and many more residents are expected to join.

Early Tuesday morning, residents were seen lining up in front of testing centers while observing social distancing. Over 82,000 residents have been tested as of 4 pm Tuesday, including HKSAR chief executive Carrie Lam, government officials and council members.

The number of new cases in Hong Kong has been hovering around 10-20 everyday, with nine confirmed infections reported Monday, but more than one-third of these cases are of unknown origin, and a hidden chain of transmission in the community continues to pose a challenge.

Universal nucleic acid testing is an important step to reopen the economy, as shown in Wuhan's experience, Jonathan Ho, Undersecretary for the Labor and Welfare Bureau of the HKSAR government, told the Global Times on Tuesday.

Under strict prevention and control measures, the Chinese city that first reported COVID-19 cases, which was also the hardest hit place, has not seen new case since mid-May, and has tested about 11 million residents in order to find asymptomatic cases. "Those measures helped put an end to the epidemic in the city," Ho said.

Wuhan experience

One Tuesday, out of the 141 community testing centers, 97 had full appointments on the first day, and another 14 testing centers were booked for the next seven days. But some residents who registered failed to appear.

The current situation in Hong Kong is similar to situation in Wuhan a few months ago. As China's southern gate, Hong Kong can't always be under lockdown when dealing with new cases, Ho noted.

"We need to return to normal with regular preventive measures," which makes universal nucleic testing an important step to reopen the economy by finding out hidden virus carriers, and cutting off transmission routes, he said.

Leading experts and doctors dispatched to Wuhan have offered advice to other countries that have been continuing to struggle with coronavirus cases: conduct massive tests and follow hygiene rules. These were the two factors that helped Wuhan beat the virus.

The country's virus prevention authority plans to further strengthen China's capacity for COVID-19 nucleic acid testing, as it would help prepare for any potential recurrence of the outbreak ahead of the flu season.

The plan, unveiled on Monday, is crucial to normalizing virus prevention work, while avoiding outbreaks caused by imported cases, some experts said.

As a major trading and transport hub, HKSAR has been facing growing challenges in handling both domestically-transmitted cases and imported infections, hampered by inadequate testing capabilities in tracking down silent virus carriers.

Since August, a number of nucleic acid testing teams, about 200 personnel from the mainland, had traveled to Hong Kong.

The central government has assigned up to 600 people, who had certified qualifications and sufficient training experience, to support Hong Kong in batches if Hong Kong needs them.

The laboratory affiliated with the BGI Group can detect 100,000 single tubes per day, and the detection capability can be increased to 300,000. The laboratory is more than capable of handling the current test load, the lab said.

Politicized epidemic

As the SAR government launched the universal testing scheme to bring the city back to normal, with support from the central government, there are groups, including the HA Employees Alliance (HAEA), which claim that the scheme is ineffective, saying the scheme has to go hand-in-hand with a community and customs lockdown.

Lam addressed the group's claims at a Tuesday press conference, calling on the group to respect professionalism, and to view the anti-epidemic work objectively.

The HAEA claims universal testing and a community and customs lockdown must be done together, warning that residents will relax epidemic prevention measures when they learn that their test results are negative. But Lam believes the group underestimates the residents' discipline in following anti-epidemic measures.

Tong Kai Sing, vice president of the Association of Licentiates of Medical Council of Hong Kong (ALMCHK), a professional medical organization established in 1995 in Hong Kong, argued that universal community testing is necessary, given that the epidemic situation in Hong Kong has largely been contained, with the number of newly reported cases declining from over 100 to single digits in recent days.

Among Chinese mainland cities that have experienced a second wave of the epidemic, most have conducted citywide testing and they have proven effective in containing the epidemic while easing public concerns, Tong said. He added that the stay-at-home order is not a prerequisite of community testing; but if the two measures come together, the results will be better.

Tong stressed that universal testing will help find a large number of silent carriers, and the probability of "false negatives" is very low.

"There is no need for a lockdown as the current threat of a virus spread is in the community, not from imported cases," the vice president said. Meanwhile, Hong Kong customs have been implementing strict checks on tourists.

The HAEA's attitude is "outrageous and disappointing,"some local residents said.

Some anti-government forces like Lester Shum, a Tsuen Wan district councilor, and Joshua Wong, a leading secessionist, made alarmist remarks online, claiming that the central government sent medics to Hong Kong to test and collect the DNA of Hong Kong residents in the name of epidemic prevention.

Discouraging residents from receiving tests allows politics to override public health, Victor Chan Chi-ho, a community official from the New People's Party in Hong Kong, told the Global Times.

Also, the excuse of locking down city borders is a cliché used to intimidate the public, which is also an outdated matter, local officials said.

"Under strict immigration restrictions, only 1,200 trips were reported to the city by air and two land ports everyday in August, most of whom are Hong Kong residents," Lam said.

The chief executive also said the HAEA has shown its lack of objectivity and professionalism.

She assured the quality of testing, and said the health department will verify positive test results.

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