Pressure is mounting on the Hong Kong government to treat garbage from the 141 universal coronavirus testing centres across the city as clinical instead of domestic waste, as authorities reported about a tenth of the city’s 7.5 million people had signed up for the programme as of Wednesday. Appealing to citizens to take the test to track down invisible Covid-19 carriers, the government said about 798,000 people had registered for the programme as of 8pm. The free and voluntary scheme started on Tuesday and is expected to run for a week, but could be extended by one more. So far, a total of 278,000 people have been tested. The government, meanwhile, stood its ground on Wednesday despite suggestions from medical experts that rubbish from the testing centres be treated as clinical waste, which requires more stringent disposal procedures and can only be handled by licensed trash collectors. Hong Kong eases Covid-19 rules but fears over hotel cluster grow Citing advice from the Centre for Health Protection, a government spokesman said the waste from the testing locations was no different from household refuse. He added that health authorities would constantly remind the heads of all the centres, as well as cleaning contractors, to adhere to guidelines requiring that diluted bleach be used to disinfect waste collection points, and that rubbish be wrapped properly in bags before it is thrown out. The waste must also be taken from the collection points to refuse transfer stations on a daily basis. At the rear entrance of the Ma On Shan Sports Centre, which has been turned into a testing location, an apparently used medical glove was seen lying on top of a pile of rubbish bags in a roller bin on Wednesday morning as workers filed out one after another to dump more trash there. Gloves are used by staff members responsible for sample collection, cleaning and disinfections. Medical workers involved in taking samples are required to change gloves after each person has been tested, generating a hefty amount of used ones. Reports, meanwhile, have even suggested that at another testing centre in Tseung Kwan O, a woman was seen scavenging in a roller bin that contained bags of waste from the facility. Dr Leung Chi-chiu, a respiratory medicine expert, said medical waste such as used gloves and other personal protective gear “should be disposed of in a different coloured bag, usually in red, and should be collected by professionals to be incinerated”. It was also inappropriate that some of the waste was left near residential buildings, he added. Johnny Chung Lai-him, a Sha Tin district councillor, said even though he was not a medical professional, the current system for handling the centres’ rubbish “creates a feeling of discomfort” among residents. 126,000 Hong Kong residents take Covid-19 test on first day of mass screening At the daily coronavirus briefing on Wednesday, the Centre for Health Protection’s Dr Chuang Shuk-kwan said the Environmental Protection Department had defined clinical waste as items such as used sharp objects like syringes and needles, laboratory waste, human and animal tissue, as well as swabs and other items that had come in contact with blood. She added that even rubbish from general hospital wards was mostly treated as domestic waste. Chinese University’s Professor David Hui Shu-cheong, a medical adviser to the government, agreed that it would be a better approach to treat testing centres’ rubbish as clinical waste. Hui also renewed calls for citizens to take part in the testing scheme, saying that even if 1 million people joined, the test still might not be representative enough to give a full picture of the outbreak in Hong Kong. His fellow expert Leung, however, said the registration figures so far were “not that bad”. “The government’s testing capacity is about 100,000 per day, so even if the online registration is fully booked, barely 2 million people can be tested over the period of 14 days,” he said. Urging citizens to take part, Secretary for the Civil Service Patrick Nip Tak-kuen said the testing scheme would provide crucial statistics on whether the city could establish “travel bubbles” with neighbouring regions. Nip, the official in charge of the programme, said that if more people were tested and the number of silent carriers detected was small, it would help Hong Kong’s case in discussing reopening travel to places such as Japan, Thailand and mainland China without the mandatory 14 days of quarantine. About 126,000 people were tested on Tuesday, and 152,000 on Wednesday. The government also said that there have been 122 cases so far of someone’s personal data being used by others to make online bookings for the coronavirus test. Of those cases, 68 were found to involve suspected fraud, and have been referred to police. Among those who refused to be tested was Fog Hai, an 82-year-old retiree from Ma On Shan, who said: “I don’t want to be infected at the testing centre.” The government has stressed that the testing centres were properly designed to ensure everyone screened would be safe. Additional reporting by Ng Kang-chung.