Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam announced Friday that mass coronavirus testing for the city’s residents will start Sept. 1.
The endeavor, which relies on a 60-person team from the mainland, marks the first time Chinese health officials have assisted the once semi-autonomous city in fighting the deadly virus.
Lam told reporters at a news conference that all residents would be entitled to the free, one-time testing and said the process would take approximately 14 days to complete.
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Notably, unlike in the Chinese cities of Wuhan and Dalian, the testing would be done on a voluntary basis.
“For yourself, for others, for public health, we hope more people can participate,” she said. “We’ve not set ourselves any target for total testing numbers. This test is completely voluntary.”
Lam also expressed her gratitude to the Chinese government and pointed out that Hong Kong wouldn’t have been able to conduct mass testing on its own.
“Hong Kong will be much better equipped to deal with the possible next virus wave now,” she said.
According to Lam, the bill will be footed in full by the Chinese government — which has also committed to building a makeshift hospital in Hong Kong.
Secretary for the Civil Service Patrick Nip Tak-kuen explained that the government plans to set up various collection centers across Hong Kong’s districts.
Testing samples would reportedly be thrown away after tests are completed and an online booking system is being utilized to avoid overcrowding.
Residents who test negative will receive a text message with their results, while those who are positive will get a call from the health bureau with information about how to proceed.
Children below the age of 6 will not qualify.
This initiative comes as China continues to tighten its grip over the former British colony using a controversial national security law.
While access to mass testing could help break chains of transmission not yet detected, it is still unclear how many of Hong Kong’s 7 million people will come forward.
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In July, the city saw its worst outbreak of locally transmitted cases — which some called a “third wave.” Since then, the daily count has fallen substantially.
Thus far, more than 4,600 people have been infected and 75 have died.