Tougher rules on testing kick in

Checks for Covid-19 that rely on self-collected deep- throat samples are being phased out in an effort to improve the effectiveness of mandatory testing.

People subject to compulsory testing now have to go through nasal and throat swabs taken by professionals.

That will involve them heading to mobile specimen collection stations, 18 community test centers or recognized medical testing institutions.

Arrivals in the SAR under the Return2hk and Come2hk schemes, which allow travelers from the mainland to be exempted from a mandatory quarantine, must also adapt to the new rules immediately.

But legislator Jeffrey Lam Kin-fung of the Business and Professionals Alliance said the change was being made too quickly.

People who returned to Hong Kong via the Return2hk scheme yesterday could be affected by the arrangement as there was not enough time for them to adapt to the new policy, Lam claimed.

“I am also concerned whether there are enough testing centers and whether they are in places where the transportation is convenient,” he said.

But Lam agreed the nasal and throat swab test is more accurate.

“The nasal and throat swab test, which is similar to the testing method in the mainland, could give mainland authorities more confidence in Hong Kong’s anti-epidemic work,” he said. “It could also facilitate border reopenings in the future.”

Respiratory disease expert Leung Chi-chiu declared the switch to be reasonable.

The situation when people with symptoms could not get tested because there were not enough sample bottles would no longer happen with everyone going to test centers, Leung said. But he worried there could be cross-infections when high-risk groups subjected to compulsory tests are gathered in test centers. “A patient in Yangzhou city in the mainland once spread the virus to 23 other people in a testing center,” Leung said.

Leung also said people working in high-risk places, including staff of quarantine hotels, should get tested in specific testing stations near the hotels to reduce the risk of a spread.

Arrivals via the Return2hk scheme could be allowed to undergo self-collected deep throat saliva tests because the risk of them carrying the virus is low, Leung added, and it would be more dangerous when high-risk and low-risk groups mix.

From yesterday, 6,000 Hongkongers staying in mainland cities and Macau were being allowed to return home each day without quarantine under the Return2hk scheme. Non-residents can also come to Hong Kong via the Come2hk scheme without undergoing compulsory quarantine starting from next Wednesday.

The scheme will be capped at 2,000 daily, with 1,000 coming through Shenzhen Bay Port and 1,000 over the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge.

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