A medical worker helps an elder citizen with COVID-19 testing in Hong Kong, March 20, 2022. (Photo/Xinhua)
Hong Kong will shelve its compulsory mass testing program plan upon consensus by mainland and local medical experts that it is not suitable to do such testing at this stage, the city's leader said on Monday.
The announcement came as Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor outlined a roadmap for a gradual resumption of normal life following a gradual decrease in number of COVID-19 cases in the Omicron variant-fueled fifth wave of outbreak in the city.
Following the passing of the peak, the government decided to bring into effect a raft of changes to its pandemic control measures from next month, including lifting of flight bans on nine countries and cutting quarantine period for arrivals into the city.
Although a great deal of preparatory work for the mass testing has been done, experts suggest that the operation should be conducted in the early or late stages of the outbreak, not the current stage when the pandemic is still at a high level, she told an anti-pandemic news conference in the morning.
Stressing that timing is key for such an exercise, she said: "Hong Kong's epidemic situation has now been alleviated, but it remains at a high level. Experts have said it is not suitable to do universal testing at this stage."
As the scale of the operation will be unprecedentedly large, involving restriction on people's movement, mainland experts held that it may beyond the organizing capacity of local communities, and the city may fail to achieve the goal of universal screening.
She stressed that the suspension does not mean the city plans to co-exist with the virus. "When the time is suitable and conditions are appropriate, we will consider whether to use compulsory universal testing," she added.
At the same briefing on the government's "mid-term review", the CE also announced to lift the flight ban on nine countries starting from April 1. After that, vaccinated Hong Kong residents from the countries can return to the city by flight.
The current 14-day mandatory quarantine requirement for most passengers would be reduced to seven days, as if their test results showed negative on the sixth and seventh days of the isolation period, she said.
In light of the pandemic development, the flight ban is no longer suitable. The infection risk in some of the nine countries is even lower than Hong Kong, according to Lam.
She said she had asked officials to designate more hotels as quarantine facilities for travelers.
She also announced that primary schools, international schools and kindergartens can resume face-to-face classes on April 19 at the earliest.
Secondary schools however will also follow suit after the Diploma of Secondary Education Examination, which is still scheduled to begin on April 22.