Tuesday Sept 1st 2020, Hong Kong launched a mass coronavirus testing program but the demand for millions of people to accept the offer has been marred by deep mistrust of the government after China crushed the city’s democratic movement. The voluntary testing is part of efforts to eradicate a third wave of infections that began in late June and saw the densely populated city reimpose economically painful social distancing measures. But the program has been hampered by a limited response due to the involvement of mainland Chinese testing companies and doctors, and public concerns over data and DNA recovery as Beijing cracks down on calls for reform. Since registration began on Saturday, 510,000 people have signed up to take the free test, or about 7% of the city’s 7.5 million population. As of Tuesday, more than half of the city’s 141 community testing centers were full on their first day. But health experts advising the government say as many as five million people may need to be tested for programs to fully uncover hidden transmissions and end the current tide.
Mass Coronavirus Testing Program Might Cause More Spreading
Hong Kong has recorded more than 4,800 infections since the virus first hit the city in late January, but about 75% of those cases have been detected since early July. The test will take anywhere from one week to two weeks depending on public demand with a limited number each day to reduce the risk of infection. They also expressed concern that testing so many people could help spread the virus in a city where emergency regulations currently prohibit more than two people from gathering in public. A group of politicians and lawmakers, including prominent activist Joshua Wong, called on the public to boycott the test on Sunday.
They expressed concern over the massive DNA recovery and concerns that Hong Kong could introduce a mandatory health code system like the one used on the mainland. The Hong Kong government has repeatedly dismissed these concerns, denying that DNA will be collected and that no tests will be carried out in laboratories in mainland China. City leader Carrie Lam, nominated to support Beijing, denounced those opposing the pilot program as “active anti-Beijing and anti-government members” who “will spare no opportunity to create riots and spark confrontation even when it occurs. Public health problems”. Lam last week also fired doctors worried about the effectiveness of the citywide tests because they were politically motivated, angering some in the medical community.
Some of the doctors who raised concerns were the best epidemiologists who have helped the government fight the virus. At the height of the third wave in late July, Hong Kong recorded about 150 new coronavirus cases every day. Citing a rise in infections, Lam canceled a year-long local legislative election, sparking an uprising from the city’s anti-Beijing camp, hoping to profit from the simmering public anger over massive protests by the city last year. Cases returned to the single digits, with only nine new infections as of Monday, and government opponents are wondering why elections should be called off if the government can also carry out city-wide testing. Authorities say the mass test is a necessary emergency health measure and will be carried out over several days, unlike an election.