Hong Kong residents from high-risk groups such as the elderly should be given priority for Covid-19 tests, the city’s health minister said on Sunday as mainland authorities pledged free screenings for some 7.5 million people.
Secretary for Food and Health Professor Sophia Chan Siu-chee was speaking a day after state broadcaster CCTV cited unidentified sources in saying that the central government would be offering free Covid-19 nucleic tests for Hongkongers. About 60 clinical technicians arriving from across the bother would help, with seven set to be in the city on Sunday.
Four local health experts had suggested targeted testing for high-risk groups, arguing that universal tests would not be cost-effective without a lockdown, sources told the Post.
Get the latest insights and analysis from our Global Impact newsletter on the big stories originating in China.
On a radio programme on Sunday, Chan was asked if screenings would be citywide.
She said: “The priority for testing needs to be carefully considered and researched … We also know there are many hidden sources of transmission within the community, so it is important we widen the scope.”
Hong Kong is expecting its 12th straight day with more than 100 new coronavirus cases, and health authorities have since introduced targeted testing for four high-risk groups, including taxi drivers and elderly care home employees. Since the measure was introduced last month, Chan said more than 100,000 samples had been collected.
“We would also like to test other high-risk groups and the mainland team can help increase our testing capacity,” Chan said.
On Saturday, Hong Kong reported 125 new infections as well as its highest daily death toll since the pandemic began, with six elderly patients confirmed with Covid-19 and another who tested preliminary positive becoming the latest fatalities. They all had chronic illnesses and three were care home residents. The official infection tally stood at 3,396 with 33 related deaths.
Along with boosting the city’s testing capacity, the mainland medical team is also expected to help with the development of a temporary “cabin hospital” to cope with the rise in new infections, which has stretched Hong Kong’s health care facilities to the limit.
Chan said the experts would first start at the makeshift hospital set up at the AsiaWorld-Expo, which currently has 500 beds to house patients in more stable condition, but the new temporary hospital would provide better facilities than the one at the expo.
Hospital Authority chief executive Dr Tony Ko Pat-sing said the AsiaWorld-Expo site had started accepting patients, and would take in more in the coming week. Ko said the expo facility would greatly reduce the amount of time confirmed cases would have to wait before being admitted to hospital.
Beijing’s liaison office in Hong Kong on Monday hit out at some local medical professionals, accusing them of putting political considerations before public health, when they suggested that their mainland counterparts could not communicate in English, and that the city did not need help from across the border.
Asked if local medical staff were resistant towards outside help, Ko said teamwork was important in the city’s fight against the pandemic.
“Our team … is very important, it is like going into battle so the team needs to have good cooperation and communication,” he added.
Ko also said the Hospital Authority would recruit medical workers from different sectors in stages depending on manpower needs.