Top Hong Kong microbiologist Yuen Kwok-yung said on Friday that forcing people with respiratory symptoms to undergo Covid-19 tests will not be an infringement of human rights, as he urged the government to introduce the requirement now.
Speaking at a seminar, Yuen said the failure to identify virus carriers is a major anti-epidemic loophole and the reason why the city is seeing another wave of coronavirus infections.
“As we’re facing a new problem, we must solve it with a new method. The most important thing is that every Hong Kong citizen must view the issue with a new perspective,” he said.
“No one has immunity against the virus. If we don’t cooperate and test for the virus when we have symptoms, the transmission of the virus can’t be stopped. It’s nothing to do with politics and human rights,” he said.
Yuen said about 0.35 percent of travellers returning from overseas have been identified as virus carriers at the airport, while up to 0.8 percent of patients who visited private doctors tested positive for Covid-19.
“A very big loophole in our anti-epidemic measures is that not all patients with symptoms are tested for the virus. That’s why the virus continues to spread and we’re seeing the fourth wave of infections.”
The government has announced that doctors will be able to order their patients to take a Covid-19 test if they show symptoms. Any patients who refuse would risk a fine of up to HK$25,000 and six months in prison.
Officials said while the legal framework has already been gazetted, the measure will only be rolled out in "specific circumstances" and if the participation rate for voluntary testing is low.
Yuen told the media on Friday that now is the time to begin the mandatory testing for certain groups of the population.
He also said travellers returning from high-risk countries should be quarantined for 21 days instead of 14 to prevent imported coronavirus cases.
The professor said he expects a lot of students will be coming back to Hong Kong during the Christmas holiday period and they should stay in hotels during the first 14 days after they arrive, and then carry out seven days of home quarantine before taking a Covid test to see if it's safe for them to go out.
He said it might be impractical to ban all flights from high-risk countries and inhumane to stop Hong Kong students returning from overseas.
“It may be more preferable to consider extending the quarantine period, the reason being that 14 days of quarantine would only catch around 97.5 percent of cases and at the same time that there are always chances that there are false negative in the testing,” he said.