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Hong Kong Will Require Its Residents to Get Tested in March

todayFebruary 22, 2022 1

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Hong Kong will require its more than seven million residents to undergo coronavirus testing in March, Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, said Tuesday, as the territory struggles to contain its worst outbreak.

Residents will have to take three tests over a short period, starting in March. And Hong Kong will expand its testing capacity to one million tests a day from about 200,000 a day by next month, Mrs. Lam said in a news conference.

Hong Kong had been under pressure from pro-Beijing politicians to enforce some of the aggressive measures that have been used to quash outbreaks in mainland China, including citywide lockdowns and universal testing. But Hong Kong lacks many of the tools, like adequate staffing and movement tracking apps, to carry out such sweeping exercises. Mrs. Lam had previously ruled out extensive testing, saying Hong Kong lacked the capacity to process so many samples in a short period of time.

But the latest wave of infections, which has led the total number of cases in the city to surpass that of the previous two years and left hospitals overflowing, has forced the authorities to expand their efforts. New isolation facilities are being built to house coronavirus patients and a large-scale hospital is also being planned. Mainland experts arrived last week to assist with testing and will also help with building new infrastructure, Mrs. Lam said.

Summer break for primary and secondary students will be moved up to March and April so that schools can be used as sites for testing, isolation and vaccination efforts, Mrs. Lam said. In addition, more isolation units will be built to increase capacity to 28,000 next month from about 5,000 now. Another 10,000 units will be built later in the spring, Mrs. Lam said. Hotels that have been previously used for quarantining will also be used to isolate those who have mild cases.

The territory has maintained a policy of sending all Covid patients to a hospital or isolation facility, but the latest surge of cases has left 30,000 infected people waiting at home because of a lack of space in hospitals, Mrs. Lam said.

Hong Kong was seen as a world leader in controlling the coronavirus pandemic, but a wave of Omicron infections that began late last year has overwhelmed its defenses. It has recorded 145 deaths and more than 53,000 coronavirus cases this year, compared with 213 deaths and more than 12,000 cases in 2020 and 2021, according to government data.

Researchers at the University of Hong Kong who previously forecast that more than 950 people would die in the current wave have raised that figure to more than 3,200, citing the ineffectiveness of existing social distancing measures.

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