Social distancing unlikely to ease in Hong Kong until mass Covid-19 testing ends

  • Free coronavirus testing stations will be set up in 150 spots across 18 districts beginning September 1 and take roughly two weeks to finish
  • The city's health minister, Professor Sophia Chan, expects five million people to take part in the voluntary scheme
South China Morning Post |

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Government officials have announced that it's unlikely that the city's social distancing measures will be relaxed any time soon. Photo: SCMP/Dickson Lee.

Officials say that it's unlikely that social-distancing measures in Hong Kong will be relaxed until at least mid-September, after the administration finishes carrying out its citywide Covid-19 testing measures.

The universal testing, involving 150 testing spots across 18 districts, is expected to be completed in two weeks starting from September 1. Details will be announced on Friday afternoon. 

The local coronavirus situation appeared to be improving, with 18 new cases, the lowest daily infection count in more than six weeks. The government announced that some basic public services which had previously been suspended or reduced would gradually resume from next Monday. 

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The city’s health minister, Professor Sophia Chan Siu-chee, previously said she expected 5 million people to take part in the voluntary testing scheme.

From September 1, any resident who would like a coronavirus test can go to one of 150 swabbing stations to be set up in playgrounds and large community centres, according to sources familiar with the policymaking process. They will have to first register in an online system designed by the Innovation and Technology Bureau, and will be assigned a time slot afterwards. 

Residents then only have to go to the relevant station at the specified time, and private doctors, nurses and dentists on hand will take their samples. 

“The arrangement is to ensure there will be enough social distancing,” one source said. “After finishing the tests, the person will be notified with his or her results through text messages, but it will not be served as a health code.” 

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The administration did not set a target for the test schemes but it was hoping that at least 2 to 3 million people would take part – the better to gauge the overall infection trends in the city.

Swabbing stations would be set up starting from next Wednesday and Thursday. 

Professor David Hui Shu-cheong, a government public health adviser, said he understood the public may have concerns, but large-scale testing would help cut off transmission chains in the city’s third wave of infections.

“The faster we can get hold of those hidden cases, the faster we may be able to win against the third wave,” he said. “I would not mind going for the test if that can encourage the public.”

Although businesses had been calling for social-distancing rules to be eased, including allowing nighttime dine-in services at restaurants, the sources said these measures were unlikely to be relaxed until the government finished the community tests in mid-September. 

“We hope to cut off the transmission chain as soon as possible through the citywide tests, as the third wave has not been under control,” one source said. “But if we relax those measures at the same time, it will give the wrong impression that [people] do not need to stay alert.” 

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