Mandatory Covid tests - on doctors' orders

Top News | Jane Cheung and Sophie Hui 27 Nov 2020

More than 4,000 private doctors will be given the power to order patients with symptoms of Covid-19 to take a mandatory test, starting tomorrow.

The new rule will be gazetted today empowering doctors to do so.

Patients must finish the test within two days. They can take deep-throat saliva kits from the private clinics and submit the samples to collection points. Or they can get tested at a private laboratory recognized by the Department of Health, but will have to submit test results to the clinics within six days.

A website will be set up for doctors to input patients' information and test results if they opt for private laboratories.

Those who fail to do so could be fined HK$2,000, and those who ignore a further compulsory testing order by the government are liable to a maximum fine of HK$25,000 and six months in jail.

According to samples the department sent to private doctors, the test order will list the patient's name, HKID number, information on the private clinic or hospital and the patient's emergency contact, together with a deadline.

The Secretary for Food and Health, Sophia Chan Siu-chee, said the authorities have met with private doctors and introduced to them the work flow of compulsory testing, adding the medical sector "has shown really positive responses."

"For people with symptoms, we respect the clinical judgment of private practitioners. Patients should tell private doctors their contact history, so they can decide if there is a need for test," she said.

To cope with the mandatory testing, five more community testing centers will be launched tomorrow, bringing the number of community testing centers to nine. Post offices will also start distributing sampling bottles.

Lai King Community Hall in Kwai Chung will start operating tomorrow, while Siu Lun Community Hall in Tuen Mun and Wo Hing Community Hall in Fan Ling will start on Sunday. Hang Hau Community Hall in Tseung Kwan O and Yau Tong Community Hall will be in service on Monday.

The vice president of the Hong Kong Medical Association, Cheng Chi-man, said he does not object to the measure but it is a rush to implement the order tomorrow. He is worried authorities may not be able to provide sufficient specimen bottles to 4,000 private practitioners, including family doctors and specialists in pediatric infectious disease and even those for ear, nose and throat.

Cheng said doctors will make a professional judgment on whether the patient could be infected and whether to issue the mandatory testing order to the patient.

He believed patients with upper respiratory tract infection symptoms will have to take the test.

But he admitted that there will be patients refusing to undergo the virus test, such as those who are going to professional exams or going abroad soon. These people may not visit a doctor even if they have symptoms.

He also said doctors will issue a sick leave certificate of two to four days to patients who show symptoms. "Even if he or she did not contract Covid-19, it could be other diseases," he said.

Chairman of Hong Kong Patients' Voices, Alex Lam Chi-yau, said it is not ideal to make tests mandatory and voiced worries that sick citizens will be deterred from seeking medical attention.

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