Coronavirus: HK to launch second round of Covid-19 testing for high-risk workers

19-Sep-2020 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:02 AM Print This Post

Hong Kong taxi drivers and workers at wet markets, restaurants and elderly care homes will be invited for a second round of coronavirus testing targeting high-risk groups to counter the threat of a new wave of infections, the Post has learned.

Workers from the four categories deemed to have heightened exposure to Covid-19 would be issued with certificates on returning a negative result to encourage participation, a source familiar with policymaking said.

The public health crisis continued to ease in Hong Kong on Thursday, with nine infections recorded, and three of the locally transmitted cases having unknown sources.

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The confirmed cases pushed the city’s infection tally to 4,993, with 102 related deaths, on the eve of a further relaxation of social-distancing rules.

Details of the latest free testing programme, which follows a similar screening exercise in July, were expected to be unveiled on Friday by health minister Sophia Chan Siu-chee, who said earlier this week that the administration could run about 5,000 tests a day for specific groups.

“The authorities have learned a lesson from the third wave of infections. Some clusters could have been avoided if the government could have identified the invisible carriers earlier by carrying out more tests for high-risk groups,” the source said.

“Timely, regular testing for them will help the administration to be more equipped for the fourth wave.”

More than 1,000 samples were expected to be collected each day from the eligible workers, with receptacles made available at petrol stations for taxi drivers.

The government hoped to carry out tests every two weeks on all 32,000 staff serving the city’s more than 1,000 elderly care homes to ultimately prevent residents from catching the virus, the source said.

Professor David Hui Shu-cheong, who advises officials on their pandemic response, said testing high-risk groups could help identify the city’s hidden infections, as those without traceable origins were still being reported nearly every day this month.

For the best outcome, testing for each category of worker, such as taxi drivers, should be completed within five to seven days.

“If it is done over a prolonged period, by the time an infected person is found, he or she might have already been to different places,” he said, adding test results should be issued within 24 hours.

Hui believed that providing documentation proving negative test results could be an attractive feature for those eligible to take part in the voluntary exercise.

“Validity of the certificate could last for 14 days if the epidemic is under control. If it is not under control, perhaps three or seven days,” he said.

But Lam Kwai-keung, chair of the Front Line Taxi Driver Association, was sceptical about the certificate plan.

“It is meaningless to display such a certificate in the vehicle,” Lam said. “Even if I’m proven to be virus-free today, it doesn’t mean that I would be alright in the next few days.”

He added drivers still had to return to work straight after giving a sample, and faced the same infection risks as before when picking up passengers.

New coronavirus infections have been on a downward trend in September, with fewer than 20 confirmed most days, compared with over 50 daily in early August, and up to 149 a day at the height of the third wave in late July.

The city on Tuesday recorded zero locally transmitted infections for the first time in more than two months.

But public health experts have warned of a rebound given the continued relaxation of social-distancing measures.

From Friday, most venues, including swimming pools and pubs, can reopen, albeit with restrictions in place.

In a sign of the improving coronavirus outlook for the city, the community treatment facility for Covid-19 patients with mild symptoms at AsiaWorld-Expo, the conference venue near Hong Kong airport, would be put on standby from Friday.

The Hospital Authority said there were currently three patients receiving care at the facility, which could be quickly revived if the need arose.

Hong Kong recently completed a Beijing-backed mass testing programme. At a cost to the public purse of HK$530 million, 1.78 million people were tested under the citywide scheme, which uncovered at least 42 infections.

Chan said another round of free testing for the wider population might not happen, with the administration instead focusing on screening high-risk groups.

The first targeted round of testing in July detected 12 infections among 15,000 taxi and minibus drivers, a 0.08 per cent positive rate.

Only one Covid-19 case was found during the screening of more than 32,000 staff at elderly care centres, while six were identified among the same number within the catering industry.

Another five infections were discovered among 3,800 wet market workers, a positive rate of 0.13 per cent.


Category: Hong Kong

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