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Experts reserve judgement on voluntary Covid tests

2020-08-08 HKT 15:40
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  • Experts reserve judgement on voluntary Covid tests
Infectious disease experts have expressed reservations over the government’s plan to offer universal voluntary Covid-19 tests, saying it would not curb the spread of the virus if not done correctly.

Prominent microbiologist, Yuen Kwok-yung, said if people are allowed to collect specimen at home themselves, they may hurt themselves and not get anything useful.

“For nose swab, theoretically speaking, the swab stick has to go so deep that it almost reaches the ear. It makes one feel quite uncomfortable and could be painful. If you don’t do it right, you may have nosebleed,” he told a radio programme on Saturday.

“For deep throat swab, if you don’t do it properly, you would only extract some rubbish. You won’t be able to collect anything useful even if you try so hard that it makes you puke,” said Yuen.

Yuen, who’s a member of an expert team advising the government, said it was a big mistake for authorities to have relaxed social-distancing controls back in June, adding people must remain vigilant until a vaccine becomes available – which, he said, may not happen until at least nine months later.

He was speaking a day after Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced that three contractors will start providing voluntary tests in around two weeks’ time, without giving details of how specimens would be collected.

Another expert on the team, David Hui, also said a voluntary scheme should be a backup plan for stringent social-distancing measures. He said, for example, people should work from home as far as possible to cut the “chain of infections”.

Hui also said it may be difficult for people to perform nose swab themselves. He said different age groups should be allowed to choose different ways of collecting specimens.

High risk groups, such as elderly home staff, could undergo tests regularly, he added.

Meanwhile, a supervisor of one of the medical institutions recognised by the government for Covid-19 nucleic acid tests, suggested allowing private sector nurse and ambulancemen to help collect specimens.

Wong Lei-po from the Hong Kong Molecular Pathology Diagnostic Centre Limited said he believed they would be up for the job with some additional training.

He added there may be risks if residents are allowed to do it themselves, citing overseas example of children biting off and swallowing parts of the swab sticks.