Doubts over scale of people's participation in mass testing

Local | 17 Aug 2020 11:09 am

A public health expert said today that contact-tracing is a much more efficient method to find coronavirus infected patients, rather than trying to test everyone in Hong Kong, RTHK reports.
The Hong Kong government is getting ready to roll out a universal coronavirus test for anyone who wants it as the city battles a new wave of coronavirus infections. Authorities say the mass tests with the help of mainland experts is to start by next week and private doctors have been urged to help with the process.
Professor Benjamin Cowling of the University of Hong Kong raised doubts about the effectiveness of the mass tests, saying testing everyone would turn up about 100 to 200 cases.
“That's an enormous amount of money to get mostly negative results, we could still find most of those 100-plus people who are currently infected but not yet recognised as [infected?]. We could find most of those people by contact tracing, we wouldn’t find everyone,” said Cowling.
“But it would be a much more efficient way to find the majority of infected persons and then target those kind of strategies rather than just doing a scatter-gun approach of trying to do mass-testing,” he said.
Cowling also told RTHK that he has doubts about public participation in the exercise.
“I don’t think there would be a lot of public support for, I don’t think seven million people would agree to be tested,” he said.
Authorities are expected to set up booths to be set up as early as next Monday in all 18 districts to take swabs from people who want to get tested. In a email sent to private practitioners, the authorities urged them to help in the collection of throat swabs.
But the President of the Medical Association, Choi Kin, said many private medics will not sign up if authorities won't provide enough protection for them. In its email, the government only mentioned providing gloves and surgical masks.

Choi said that's far from enough.

“If you are taking a swab from the patient, young or old, there’s a high probability that they may cough or sneeze in front of you or right at you so you will get infected if they are positive patients and if you do not have adequate protection,” he said.

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