Hong Kong Orders Mandatory COVID-19 Tests for All Residents

HONG KONG—Hong Kong will test its entire population of 7.5 million people for COVID-19 in March, the city’s leader said Tuesday, as it grapples with its worst outbreak caused mainly by the Omicron variant.

The population will be tested three times in March, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said.

She said testing capacity will be boosted to 1 million a day or more.

“Since we have a population of some 7 million people, testing will take about seven days,” she said.

Hong Kong has reported about 5,000 new daily infections since Feb. 15, with the cases threatening to overwhelm its healthcare system. Since the current surge began at the beginning of the year, the city has recorded nearly 54,000 cases and 145 deaths.

Hong Kong has largely aligned itself with mainland China’s “zero-COVID-19” policy, which aims to totally stamp out outbreaks.

Lockdowns of entire cities have been imposed in a number of areas of the mainland, but Lam said no such measure is currently being considered in Hong Kong because it is “not realistic.”

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Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam listens to a reporter’s question during a press conference in Hong Kong, on Feb. 22, 2022. (Vincent Yu/AP Photo)

The “zero-COVID-19” strategy means that Hong Kong authorities often take measures, like locking down residential estates for mass testing, when positive cases are detected, imposing strict quarantine requirements on travelers, and ordering the shuttering of businesses.

The rapid surge of infections in the city has threatened to overwhelm its health care system.

Health officials said last week that hospitals were already at 90 percent of capacity and isolation facilities were full. People who test positive for the virus in Hong Kong must be admitted to a hospital or a quarantine facility.

Lam acknowledged on Tuesday that the city’s isolation facilities are “severely inadequate.”

Current social-distancing measures, such as a ban on dining at restaurants after 6 p.m. and the closure of businesses such as gyms and bars, will be extended until April 20.

She said the city hopes to boost its vaccination rate to 90 percent by early March.

Other measures announced Tuesday include ending the school year early and moving the normal July-August summer holidays forward to March-April so that schools can be turned into facilities for testing, isolation, and vaccination.

Flight bans from countries classified as high risk, including Australia, Canada, India, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Britain, and the United States, will be extended to April 20.