Hong Kong launched a mass coronavirus testing program Tuesday, but calls for millions to accept the offer were undermined by deep distrust of the government after China crushed the city’s democracy movement.
The voluntary testing is part of an attempt to eradicate a third wave of infections that began in late June, when the densely populated city reintroduced economically painful social distancing measures.
However, the program has been hampered by limited response due to the involvement of testing firms and doctors in mainland China – and public fears of data and DNA gathering as Beijing cracks down on calls for democratic reform.
Since registration began on Saturday, 510,000 people have signed up for the free tests – around seven percent of the city’s 7.5 million residents.
However, health experts advising the government have stated that up to five million people may need to be tested for the system in order to fully uncover hidden transmissions and end the current wave.
Hong Kong has seen just over 4,800 infections since the virus first emerged in late January, but around 75 percent of those cases have been detected since early July.
The tests last between one week and two weeks, depending on public demand. The number is limited daily to reduce the risk of infection.
“I do this for myself and for others,” Winnie Chan, a mother in her thirties, told AFP when she walked into a testing center on Tuesday. “I am confident and support the government’s policies.”
Others said they had no plans to sign up.
“I think it’s a waste of time,” Emily Li told AFP. “The government cannot convince me of the effectiveness of the testing program.”
The authorities have billed the program as a benevolent public health initiative made possible with Chinese help.
But the involvement of teams and laboratories from the mainland has upset the rumor mill and heightened fears from the Beijing surveillance state, which uses biometric data to monitor its citizens.
Some prominent Hong Kong health experts have also questioned the effectiveness of a mass testing program, arguing that more targeted monitoring of vulnerable and vulnerable communities would mean better use of resources.
They also raised concerns that testing so many people on their own could help spread the virus in a city where emergency rules currently prohibit more than two people from gathering in public.
A group of pro-democracy politicians and lawmakers, including well-known activist Joshua Wong, called on the public on Sunday to boycott the test.
They raised concerns about the bulk DNA harvest and fear that Hong Kong may introduce a mandatory health code system like the one used on the mainland.
The Hong Kong government has repeatedly denied these concerns, denied that DNA was extracted and insisted that testing would not go to laboratories on the mainland.
City guide Carrie Lam, an appointed person for Beijing, criticized those who opposed the testing program as “active anti-Beijing and anti-government members” who “will spare no chance of causing problems and fomenting confrontation, even if they do.” it is about a public health problem “.
The Beijing Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Bureau labeled those who opposed the scrutiny of “anti-China radicals” with a “hideous disregard” for public health.
Last week, Lam also dismissed doctors who raised concerns about the effectiveness of tests across the city as politically motivated, angry some in the medical community.
Some of the doctors who have raised concerns are top epidemiologists who helped the government fight the virus.
At the height of the third wave in late July, Hong Kong was seeing around 150 new coronavirus cases every day.
Citing the rise in infections, Lam canceled the local elections for a year, sparking uproar from the city’s pro-democracy camp, which had hoped to benefit from simmering public anger after the major protests last year.
Since then, cases have dropped to single digits with just nine new infections on Monday, and government opponents have questioned why elections need to be canceled when the government can run city-wide tests.
Authorities have stated that mass testing is a necessary health emergency and, unlike elections, is done over several days.
(Except for the headline, this story was not edited by GossipMantri staff and published from a syndicated feed.)