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The Hong Kong government has ordered mandatory COVID-19 testing for all citizens in March as the Omicron variant continues to drive one of its worst outbreaks of the pandemic.
All 7.5 million citizens will be tested three times in March, with the goal of identifying people who have contracted the coronavirus but don’t have symptoms, according to The Associated Press.
Testing capacity will be increased to 1 million a day or more, officials said. People will be able to book appointments at testing centers across the city.
“Since we have a population of some 7 million people, testing will take about 7 days,” Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, said during a news briefing on Tuesday.
Hong Kong has recorded about 5,000 new daily infections since mid-February. The surge in cases threatens to overwhelm the health care system.
The order for citywide testing comes after Chinese authorities sent epidemiologists, health care workers, and medical resources last week to help with the outbreak, the AP reported. Hong Kong has largely aligned itself with China’s “zero-COVID-19” policy, which has sometimes meant locking down residential areas for mass testing or imposing strict quarantine requirements for travelers.
Although lockdowns of entire cities have happened in several areas in China, Lam said she isn’t considering broad lockdowns for Hong Kong because it’s “not realistic.” She also said the central Chinese government isn’t telling Hong Kong how to handle the coronavirus.
“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.”
Hong Kong health officials said last week that hospitals were at 90% capacity and isolation facilities were full, the AP reported. People who test positive in Hong Kong must be admitted to a hospital or a quarantine facility.
On Tuesday, Lam said the city’s isolation facilities were “severely inadequate” and the city is “working very hard with the full support of the central authorities” to build more.
Lam also said Hong Kong aims to boost its vaccination rate to 90% by early March. In the meantime, some measures to contain the coronavirus will continue. Dining at restaurants is banned after 6 p.m., and the closure of businesses such as bars and gyms will continue until April 20, according to the news outlet.
Some flights will also continue to be banned until April 20, particularly from countries classified as “high risk,” such as Australia, Canada, India, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, the U.K., and the U.S.
“This is not good news to the sectors affected, but really at this stage of the pandemic, we have no choice but to take these measures,” Lam said.
The Associated Press: “Hong Kong orders mandatory COVID-19 tests for all residents.”
Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region: “Compulsory universal testing set,” Feb. 22, 2022.
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