Test every Hongkonger, says expert

Top News | Jane Cheung 31 Jul 2020

Hong Kong should test everyone for the virus to identify asymptomatic carriers, says China's leading infectious disease expert, Zhong Nanshan.

But local government adviser David Hui Shu-cheong said it is not feasible.

Zhong, director of the State Key Laboratory of Respiratory Disease, said Hong Kong is in a crucial time frame to contain the ongoing wave of infections and suggested the SAR government not only test high-risk groups, but also all of its 7.5 million people in order to break silent transmission chains.

"If the situation gets worse, it should make it mandatory to test all people while boosting medical capacity, including test kits, laboratory technicians and hospital infrastructure," he said.

"There are only seven to eight million people at most. It shouldn't be a difficult task. The good thing is it facilitates early detection and isolation to lower chances of transmission," Zhong said, adding that anyone testing positive should be immediately isolated, even though some could be asymptomatic.

He said the mainland is willing to support Hong Kong in tests and treatment.

Zhong said Covid-19 in Hong Kong does not come with a high infection or death rate and the ongoing wave has not seen an exponential rise in cases, proving local anti-epidemic policies have made "a huge impact."

Hui from Chinese University echoed with Zhong's view that daily confirmed cases are becoming stable and a downward trend is expected. According to an analysis of patients' dates of symptoms onset, he pointed out the current wave has reached its peak and it could be over by the end of next month.

"A lockdown will not be implemented unless daily cases go up exponentially, as it should be the last resort," he said.

However, Hui said on radio that it is not practical to test every Hongkonger.

"If you test indiscriminately, it may not be very cost-effective. One can be negative on one day but there is no guarantee that he or she would not be infected in a few days or next week," he said.

He said Hong Kong has limited resources and manpower on tests, so it should adopt target-based testing schemes.

Undersecretary for food and health Chui Tak-yi said more than 45,000 high-risk people such as care-home workers, taxi and minibus drivers, restaurant staff and security guards have been tested in the government's extended test scheme.

So far, 16 positive cases have been detected.

"We're focusing on testing suspected cases, close contacts and cooperating with private doctors to test symptomatic citizens," he said.

Asked if the government will test all citizens, he said: "We are working on cluster surveillance and will look at the results before rolling out our next step."

jane.cheung@singtaonewscorp.com

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