If there is anything that governments the world over have learned from the long-running battle against Covid-19, it would be the virus’ treacherous nature and the conflicts between public health protection and economic lifeline. The Hong Kong experience is no less troubling, being the only place in China that has gone through waves of outbreaks that are still wreaking major havoc in society. Admittedly, the infection and death tolls per capita remain relatively low, but the epidemic could have come under control much earlier had there been more decisive and organised government response. The mandatory virus tests targeting more than 20 blocks with one infection in a designated Yau Tsim Mong neighbourhood is the latest necessary step to curb a wider community outbreak. But the move, as opposed to building-based screenings triggered by two unrelated cases, also underlines inadequacies in previous strategies. Over the past two weeks, the district has reported at least 81 cases, some of which reported in four tenement blocks at Reclamation Street. The buildings shared common areas and are filled with subdivided flats home to ethnic-minority communities with members linked to recent outbreaks at construction sites. Having handled mass testings and evacuations across the city over the past year, such operations ought to have been well-established affairs. But recent experience showed the timeliness and efficiency of such exercises still leave much to be desired. Residents in the affected tenement buildings and a public housing block in Kwai Tsing were hastily transferred to quarantine overnight. The widened neighbourhood screenings covering thousands of residents in Yau Tsim Mong pose further challenges. The city’s high-density living environment and reluctance to embrace a complete lockdown have inevitably compromised efforts to curb community transmissions. But that does not mean the government should only respond to situations passively. When asked about the perceived confusion and delay at a media session, an official wondered how to determine whether actions are timely or belated. The government may think that it is already doing its level best. But the outcome clearly falls short of expectations.