Welfare secretary Law Chi-kwong on Sunday said the government will test staff at most care homes for coronavirus over the first two weeks of December, and those who refuse may be barred from going to work.
The minister stressed that such mandatory tests are needed to ward off the serious threat of Covid-19 outbreaks at such homes, with the arrival of winter and the recent spike in infections.
“Although care home staff aren’t a high-risk group, but if they get infected and transmit the virus to residents who are physically weak, the consequences can be extremely serious”, Law said.
He noted that outbreaks at homes in Europe and the United States had led to the deaths of many, and Hong Kong should do everything it can to avoid this.
“Mandatory testing is a necessary measure to protect residents’ lives and their health, and the better way to do this would be to staff [all staff] once a week.”
All employees of nursing homes and residential care homes for the elderly and the disabled can either get free tests at community centres set up by the government, or they can elect to get tested at private labs.
However, staff who work at homes in the outlying islands will be exempted for now because of practical limitations. Law said the authorities will be coming up with practical arrangements to get them tested as well.
The welfare minister said people refusing to get tested will be fined, and may even be stopped from going to work.
"We will definitely be contemplating that those who do not comply… should not be working. That is the instruction we will be giving to the residential service operators,” Law said.
He told reporters details will come in a more detailed announcement as soon as Monday.
The government had implemented several rounds of voluntary tests for care home staff since July, but the participation rate had fallen from the initial 86 percent, to 68 percent, Law said.
Meanwhile, the secretary added that the government is considering setting up more community testing centres, or send out sample-collecting vans to make testing more convenient for the general public.