The government on Friday announced plans to test high-risk groups regularly for Covid-19, such as people working in care homes and restaurants, but there are questions as to whether that would be effective in stemming the spread of the virus.
The Secretary for Food and Health, Sophia Chan, said in a press conference that 5,000 people from high-risk groups – which also include workers at wet markets and in the transport sector, as well as those working in "essential facilities" such as the container terminal and slaughterhouses – could be tested each day.
From Friday, care home staff will be tested every two weeks. It's not immediately clear how often others will get tested.
"It is still voluntary, but then of course we strongly encourage people to take the test because if there are high-risk groups or high-exposure groups, it is important that they test," Chan said.
She added Hong Kong people now have a better understanding of such testing thanks to the recent universal voluntary community scheme.
Liberal Party lawmaker Tommy Cheung, representing the catering sector, welcomed the move to offer regular testing for frontline staff. But he expressed concern that not everyone is willing to get tested based on what happened with the recent screening programme.
"Last time, unfortunately, 200,000 test kits were passed out, we only came back with 65 percent that were willing to do the test. I'm sure some of the restaurant staff worry that if they tested positive, they would not be earning any salary."
He said more workers will be willing to take the test if the government or employers undertake to pay their wages should they become infected.
Labour Party lawmaker Fernando Cheung, who used to represent the social welfare sector, said ramping up staff testing alone won't reduce the risk of infection at elderly care homes.
He pointed out that some employees work in more than one facility and live in less-than-ideal conditions.
"The test is not a complete answer," he said.
"These staff should not go to more than one care home. That should be strictly observed. The other thing is many of these are imported labour and they live in these quarters that are very crowded and unsanitary, so I think the quarters have to be monitored and improved."
The government also said on Friday that more quarantine facilities were being built, with 4,000 places to be added by the end of the year.
Chan warned that the next wave of Covid-19 infections, which are expected to hit in the winter, could be even more serious than the recent third wave, which is why the government is stepping up its infection-control measures.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong reported three new cases of Covid-19, two of which were linked to previously confirmed patients and the third is an imported case from the UK, which brings the total number of coronavirus cases in the city to 4,996.
The Centre for Health Protection said the imported case was a 51-year-old woman who came back from UK who reported onset of symptoms almost two weeks ago. The two local cases reported symptoms as early as last Saturday and lived in Yau Tong and Mong Kok respectively.
Authorities also confirmed that an 81-year-old male Covid-19 patient passed away at Princess Margaret Hospital on Thursday night, bringing the total number of coronavirus-linked deaths to 103.
Last updated: 2020-09-18 HKT 17:19