Hong Kong Finds Six Virus Cases From China-Backed Testing Blitz

Initial results from Hong Kong’s universal testing blitz have uncovered six infections, in the first indication the experiment will uncover hidden cases even with only a small segment of the population participating.

The new asymptomatic infections emerged after 128,000 people were sampled in the first few days of a Beijing-backed campaign to offer everyone in the city a free test. About 850,000 residents had registered for it as of Thursday afternoon, trailing behind the 3 million turnout hoped for by the lab running the project.

Four of the six cases uncovered by the testing are discharged patients from hospitals, while two are new infections, health officials said Thursday.

The Asian financial hub aims to use the testing drive to detect more hidden chains of transmissions as it tries to avoid future flare-ups after largely bringing its worst Covid-19 outbreak under control. Local infections in the city have fallen from a peak of 145 at the end of July to only seven cases on Thursday, separate from the testing drive, with four of them having an unknown origin.

But the goal to bring a greater sense of security to Hong Kong may be undermined by the low turnout. So far slightly over 10% of Hong Kong’s more than 7 million residents have been tested. That leaves open the possibility of more cases spreading undetected, underlining the difficulties cities around the globe face in implementing solutions to contain the spread of Covid-19 in the absence of an effective vaccine.

“We urge more people to participate in the mass testing to end the hidden chains of transmissions quickly,” Director of Health Constance Chan said in a briefing Thursday.

The weak turnout in Hong Kong may reflect residents’ sentiment toward China as the mainland tightens its hold on the city. Activists have raised concerns that China, which is supplying the equipment and funding for the exercise, might use the testing to collect DNA data. Hong Kong has dismissed those worries.

Hong Kong’s campaign, which kicked off on Sept. 1, is the largest global attempt to test an entire city on a voluntary basis — unlike similar mandatory drives in the Chinese cities of Wuhan and Dalian, where residents were compelled to come forward. The testing drive is currently slated for one week, while it could be extended to as long as two weeks depending on demand.

As Hong Kong’s virus wave tapers off, the city has been gradually easing social-distancing measures. It announced earlier this week the reopening of schools in phases. The government is also poised to allow gyms and massage parlors to reopen from Friday.

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