Hong Kong will roll out a program to offer free, one-time coronavirus testing for all of its citizens as part of an aggressive push to contain the pandemic, sources report.
A team of medical officials from mainland China will help to expand the testing capacity as the city moves to identify asymptomatic carriers of the virus.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam said the testing effort will start within the next two weeks, and that a new makeshift hospital will be built to help handle the increasing numbers, Bloomberg reported.
“It’s time for us to do more universal testing,” Lam said at a press briefing Friday afternoon. “But if we have to do it, we need to increase testing capacity in a short time.”
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Hong Kong hosts around 7.4 million residents, and medical teams could only process around 20,000 to 30,000 samples in a day, the New York Times reported. The mainland team had set a goal of processing 100,000 to 200,000 tests a day, but the actual capacity now appears to be closer to 400,000 samples per day.
The mainland team consists of seven experts who arrived on Sunday to lay the groundwork for the larger team of nearly 60 members, who would later help ramp up testing.
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The assistance comes at a time when Hong Kong is seeing new cases without clear cause. On Friday, Hong Kong reported 81 new local infections – 32 of which come from unknown origins, Bloomberg reported.
The city has battled a fierce resurgence over the past month, but the offer of help from the mainland has left local experts skeptical: many are concerned that the test will be wasted on a largely uninfected population, in addition to the lack of transparency thus far.
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“People in Hong Kong fear they will be subject to similar methods of control like in Xinjiang,” said Maya Wang, a senior China researcher at Human Rights Watch who has studied biometric surveillance in China. “A large part of it is the mass collection of biometrics.”