Hong Kong ‘s plan to test every resident for coronavirus is being hobbled out of the China-backed health scheme by limited take-up as a wary public steering. The free voluntary tests are part of an attempt to stamp out a third wave of infections that began in late June and that saw the densely populated city reimpose economically painful social distancing measures. But the presence of Chinese research firms in the mainland has deterred many in a politically divided city convulsed with frustration at the rule of Beijing.
Civil service chief Patrick Nip said on Monday morning (Sept 7) that 1.15 million people had signed up since mass testing started last Tuesday out of a town population of around 7.5 million. That number is far below the four to five million leading health experts said a mass test scheme will need to be successful in identifying and halting secret transmission chains.
The tibid excitement is a blow to the pro-Beijing leadership of the city that is suffering from low ratings of approval. Residents had been called upon to accept the scheme, billing it as a benevolent public health program made possible with Chinese assistancan. But the presence of the mainland teams and laboratories has sent the gossip mills into overdrive and intensified fears of the surveillance state of Beijing, which uses biometric data to track its people. A coalition of pro-democracy politicians and lawmakers, and a Beijing-critical medical union, called on the public to boycott the test.
A coalition of pro-democracy politicians and lawmakers, and a Beijing-critical medical union, called on the public to boycott the test. Some influential Hong Kong health experts have challenged the feasibility of a mass testing program, suggesting that more focused screening of disadvantaged and at-risk populations would be better resource use.
Hong Kong was registering about 150 new cases a day at the height of the third wave late July. The number has been floating between 10 and 20 a day over the last two weeks, even with the mass test scheme under way. Hong Kong has reported nearly 4,900 infections and coronavirus deaths since the pandemic started.