HONG KONG - City officials have not given up on rolling out a comprehensive mass testing exercise that would require thousands of staff and inconvenience residents, but it would have to be carried out at "the best timing", said Hong Kong's Chief Executive on Monday (March 28).
Mrs Carrie Lam, speaking at her daily Covid-19 briefing, stressed that mass testing is "a very effective tool to use", especially to eliminate any silent transmissions in the community.
She said it also gives Hong Kong the basis to negotiate or discuss with the mainland on the resumption of quarantine-free travel.
"We have not given up doing a comprehensive universal test, but the timing of doing it is very, very significant because it is a mammoth exercise. We need to mobilise thousands of staff and we need to inconvenience hundreds of thousands of residents, so we must find the best timing that will achieve the best result before we launch a comprehensive universal test," Mrs Lam added.
She officially announced in February plans for mass testing the entire 7.4 million population in March, but plans were shelved as daily infections spiked and the government switched its focus to preventing elderly deaths and severe cases.
Currently, anyone infected in the last three months from when a compulsory testing order is issued will not need to go for the test. This group of infected residents would have tested positive either through polymerase chain reaction tests or rapid test kits, and declared their infections to the authorities.
The same rule will also apply to the mass testing exercise when it is rolled out, said Mrs Lam, who added that there is no timetable yet for when the planned testing is to be carried out.
She noted that the exemption granted to those who were infected had led to the recent drop in the number of cases detected in overnight lockdowns.
So far, Hong Kong has logged more than 1.13 million infections and more than 7,400 deaths.
In the current fifth wave alone, there have been more than 7,200 deaths or 97 per cent of all fatalities.
Hong Kong logged more than 7,600 new infections on Monday and 168 deaths, the third day in a row below 10,000 cases.
Meanwhile, Cathay Pacific said it has added flights from London, Sydney, Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur to Hong Kong after rules for suspending flights were eased to seven days.
Currently, an airline has to suspend flights for two weeks if three passengers test positive for Covid-19 on arrival at the Hong Kong International Airport.
But the authorities announced at midnight on Sunday that the suspension period will be shortened to seven days from Friday.