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Experts question March mass testing plan

2022-03-02 HKT 11:47
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  • Experts question March mass testing plan
Several medical experts have questioned the government’s plan to conduct a citywide Covid testing exercise this month, expressing concern as to whether Hong Kong has enough facilities to isolate infected people.

On an RTHK radio show, the vice-president of the Hong Kong Society for Infectious Diseases, Wilson Lam, said testing everyone in the SAR could help detect infections sooner, but currently, the city doesn't seem to have enough isolation facilities for the mass testing plan.

Lam said officials could allow some infected people to isolate at home, but there should still be enough isolation facilities ready.

“If we can't secure enough isolation facilities, doing citywide testing too early might not be too effective. Of course there are other ways to make up for it. We can't really give up on finding cases early, because having so many patients in the community will also let the situation snowball and extend the fifth wave,” he said.

“If we detect too many cases and can't isolate them all... can we do another large-scale testing exercise later on?”

The expert said mass testing will be more effective if it is accompanied by a citywide lockdown, but the period must be short to reduce the impact on society.

Speaking on another radio show, government adviser Ivan Hung said most experts are against carrying out citywide Covid testing at this stage, saying the exercise should be conducted in early or mid April, when the outbreak eases.

The University of Hong Kong professor said conducting universal testing when the epidemic is peaking would not be very effective.

“Doing mass testing at the beginning of the epidemic is of course the best, so you can cut all transmission chains. But if you missed this chance, another opportunity is when the outbreak subsides,” Hung said.

“Then, it's easier to catch all infections, and you can speed up the decline. Using this method, you might be able to achieve zero cases after one week. You will also need fewer isolation facilities if you do the mass testing in early or mid April.”

Hung said children under three should be exempt from the mass testing exercise, while authorities should also arrange door-to-door specimen collection for people with impaired mobility.

Speaking on the same show, HKU microbiologist Ho Pak-leung echoed Hung’s views, saying universal testing is not urgent, unlike vaccination.

Ho added that it is more practical to test everyone with rapid antigen tests, saying the sensitive PCR test will detect many people who have recovered and are no longer infectious.