Hong Kong shelves universal COVID-19 testing plan

Screengrab of the Information Services Department’s video of a presser on the COVID-19 situation in Hong Kong on March 21, 2022.
Screengrab of the Information Services Department’s video of a presser on the COVID-19 situation in Hong Kong on March 21, 2022.

Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam announced the suspension of a criticized universal COVID-19 testing scheme on Monday, citing timing issues and the weak capacity for community organization in the city.

In her daily press briefing, she said the government had done a lot of preparation, but decided to shelve the plan after taking into the consideration the opinions of mainland and local experts.

“They believe that universal testing should be done in the early days or toward the end of an outbreak. So timing is key,” said Lam.

She added that the experts did not think it is suitable to devote limited resources to universal PCR testing at this stage.

The chief executive made the U-turn a month after announcing that over 7 million residents in Hong Kong would be required by law to undergo compulsory testing in March.

The plan was met with criticism over its effectiveness — with Hong Kong already in the midst of a serious outbreak — and questions over whether there would be sufficient facilities to isolate infected people.

Mixed messages about the exercise and a possible lockdown also sparked a round of panic buying among residents.

During Monday’s press conference, Lam also cited the opinion of experts — particularly those from the mainland — that Hong Kong’s weak capacity for community organization makes it difficult to conduct the mass testing.

She said that while there is a legal basis for the plan, she feared it would be difficult to achieve the aim of having everyone tested.

“If the timing is appropriate [in the future] or we have the right conditions, we will consider whether to use this universal testing measure,” said Lam.

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