Hong Kong to test entire population of 7.5m for Covid in March

Hong Kong will test its entire population of 7.5 million people for Covid-19 in March, its leader said, as it grapples with its worst outbreak driven by the Omicron variant.

The population would be tested three times in March, said Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam. She said testing capacity would be boosted to 1 million a day or more. “Since we have a population of some 7 million people, testing will take about seven days,” she said.

Hong Kong has reported about 5,000 new daily infections since 15 February, with the cases threatening to overwhelm its healthcare system. Since the current surge began at the beginning of the year, it has recorded nearly 54,000 cases and 145 deaths.

The order for mass testing came after mainland Chinese authorities dispatched epidemiologists, health workers and other medical resources last week to help contain the outbreak in the semi-autonomous Chinese city.

Hong Kong has largely aligned itself with mainland China’s “zero-Covid-19” policy, which aims to totally stamp out outbreaks, even as many other countries are shifting their approach to living with the virus.

Lockdowns of entire cities have been imposed in a number of areas of the mainland, but Lam said no such measure was being considered in Hong Kong because it was “not realistic”.

She also denied that the central Chinese government was giving instructions to Hong Kong on how to handle the epidemic.

“I reiterate that the central government never issued any instructions on our anti-epidemic work,” she said. “The central government will offer support as needed or upon our request, but of course we will always exchange our views.”

The “zero-Covid-19” strategy means that Hong Kong authorities often take measures such as locking down residential estates for mass testing when positive cases are detected, imposing strict quarantine requirements on travellers and ordering the shuttering of businesses.

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The rapid surge of infections has threatened to overwhelm…

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