The government will extend its universal Covid-19 testing scheme by four days to September 11, officials said on Friday, citing high public demand as they brushed off suggestions that the citywide exercise isn’t worth the expense.
As of 11am on Friday, more than 520,000 people have already been tested, while 917,000 have booked appointments.
So far, six positive cases have been confirmed – including four previously-known infections and two new ones.
“Even if we find just one case, this is very important”, health secretary Sophia Chan said.
“Actually it’s good sign that we’re not uncovering many cases. If we don’t look for the cases, we wouldn’t know if there are lots of people infected in the community, or not.”
She said even if the scheme ends up identifying just a handful of cases, that is also useful in giving the government a “better analysis and a better handle on the situation”, that could give officials the information they need to consider furthering scale back social distancing measures.
Any positive cases that are found, she noted, would be quickly isolated and treated, and cut off possible chains of transmissions.
Civil service secretary Patrick Nip, whose bureau is running the scheme, said the programme could help end the third wave of Covid-19 infections here, lead to the reopening of businesses, and allow a resumption of cross-border travel, not to mention offer test-takers the peace of mind they're seeking.
Nip said it was too early to give a dollar-figure for the scheme, but stressed that its effectiveness should not be judged on the number of positive cases identified alone.
The scheme was originally scheduled to run from September 1 to 7, but will now be extended to September 11.
However, Nip said a further extension is possible if demand remains high, though it would wrap up by September 14 at the latest.
Not all 141 existing testing stations would remain in operation. Nineteen that haven’t been very busy will cease operations on Monday.
Nip explained that their relatively remote locations may be the reason why they haven’t attracted many people, although he stressed that 54 of the 141 stations in operation on Friday are fully booked; and 27 stations and booked up all the way to Monday.
Those who want to take the test during the extended four-day period can make online appointments starting on Saturday morning.
People who have already taken the test, Nip said, are not encouraged to take them again, though they won’t be stopped from doing so.
“Maybe [people who have already been tested] had this high risk exposure, to places or to people and he or she may feel uncomfortable and want to be tested again. We will not preclude this but generally there is no need to do it again after having done it once”, he said.
Chan, meanwhile thanked the mainland authorities for their support of the scheme once again, saying Hong Kong would not have had the resources necessary to conduct universal testing without their help.
She said 200 more mainland technicians arrived in Hong Kong on Thursday – in addition to the 220-odd workers who had been coming here since early August.