More than 10,000 Hong Kong residents were tested for the coronavirus on Tuesday morning in the first two hours of the government’s universal screening programme, despite activists and some health workers calling for a boycott.
According to the South China Morning Post, the tests began at 8 am sharp, with workers taking samples from residents at 141 collection centres across all 18 districts.
Health experts taking the test themselves appealed to the public to respect individual choices over whether to do so, with the scheme becoming highly politicised, as they called for regular screening for high-risk groups once the universal system ends.
The number of participants in the scheme – due to last at least seven days – is being viewed as a barometer for public opinion on the involvement of about 220 personnel from mainland China in carrying out the tests.
“Opposition politicians have warned of the risks of personal and biometric data being transferred over the border, while some health experts have said targeted testing of high-risk groups is a better use of resources,” said the Post.
About 593,000 residents, or 8 per cent of the city’s population, had signed up by 8 am on Tuesday for the programme, while the government said bookings at 99 centres for the first day of the scheme were full.
A group of activists led by Joshua Wong Chi-fung and the Hospital Authority Employees Alliance, a union representing frontline staff at public hospitals, had pushed for the boycott on Sunday.
They cited recent Swedish reports of 3,700 false positive results returned by test kits from BGI Genomics, a firm involved in the Hong Kong programme, and questioned the accuracy of citywide testing.
The State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office and Beijing’s liaison office issued separate statements on the same day, hitting out at critics who questioned mainland authorities’ help in the fight against the pandemic, calling them “evil” for slandering the cooperation.
The city confirmed nine COVID-19 cases on Monday, the fewest since the Monday prior, which was the lowest daily number since 3 July. The tally now stands at 4,810.