HONG KONG (AFP) – Hong Kong’s leader said yesterday that mandatory coronavirus testing was no longer a priority after plans for mass screening of all 7.4 million residents and an accompanying citywide lockdown triggered panic.
Yesterday’s announcement by Carrie Lam comes after weeks of uncertainty and mixed messages from the government, fuelling panic-buying sprees by residents snapping up vegetables, canned goods, frozen foods, and even over-the-counter medicine such as paracetamol, and testing kits.
Thousands of foreign and Hong Kong residents have also fled the city, as the United States (US) issued a travel advisory warning against visiting and cited the risk of children being separated from parents in COVID isolation units.
But yesterday’s announcement rolls back a late February proposal by Lam that three rounds of compulsory testing would happen, and authorities saying it would be carried out alongside a citywide lockdown and movement restrictions.
“What we are doing now is planning and preparation but (mass testing) is not a priority for now,” she said, adding that the plan for universal testing has not been nixed.
“If we do it, it must be for the greatest benefit of Hong Kong,” Lam said.
Health experts have criticised Lam’s administration for unclear messaging on where Covid-positive patients should go, the city’s low vaccination rates among the elderly and a lack of preparation for medical staffing and facilities.