‘Citywide testing won’t work without swift isolation’

Infectious diseases expert Leung Chi-chiu said on Tuesday that the government’s plan to rein in Hong Kong’s Covid outbreak by testing the entire population in March will go to waste if authorities cannot isolate a large number of infected people quickly.

“We need to ensure that we have a very rapid turnover time, from the specimen collection to the effective isolation, to occur within 24 hours. If you allow that to drag on, for example, for two to three days, you waste the major proportion of your efforts. Because a lot of transmission can happen in that two to three day gap,” he said.

Leung said a lot of planning will be needed for the citywide testing scheme to work.

“How to ensure that we can handle as many as two to three thousand cases per day, or tens of thousands of cases within every week? We’re talking about probably 20,000 or 30,000 cases detected in each round of testing. How can we ensure that we can quickly isolate all these detected persons? How to trace their contacts and put them under quarantine within a short period of time? That is a challenge.”

He said authorities could consider mobilising senior form students to help with the programme as they take an early summer break in March and April.

Leung added that the government must maintain good infection control measures and prevent over-crowding at testing centres, so people will not get infected while waiting for their tests.