Mandatory testing eyed as HK records 18 new COVID-19 cases

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Testing for coronavirus may be soon required after health authorities revealed it was studying legal framework of its possible implementation. (SCREENSHOT:

Authorities are looking at compulsory testing for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), as the city recorded 18 new cases Thursday.

Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan said earlier in the day that the number of local COVID-19 cases has gone up in recent days, with more infections without a traceable source.

“There is a rising trend as well, and as such we are seeing the start of a rebound,” Chan said in Cantonese in a press briefing.

Only four of Hong Kong’s 18 new cases Thursday were imported, the Centre for Health Protection (CHP) reported. The rest were local, with a 65-year-old male being the most recent case whose source of infection is unknown.

The city posted its highest number of cases in more than two weeks, following a series of single-digit daily COVID-19 case tallies.

Officials will study the legal framework to allow mandatory COVID-19 tests as well as the concerns of the public, according to Chan. But the food and health secretary did not specify which groups will be covered by the mandatory testing scheme.

“If we can make it mandatory for people to be tested, then we will be able to better grasp the public health situation so as to enable us to implement more effective measures. So such a measure is required,” she said in Cantonese.

She said people’s unwillingness to get tested affected community health protection, but the health chief allayed these worries by stating relevant authorities would study the matter.

Chan raised concern over a growing cluster in the bar and restaurant industry after at least 10 cases were found to have links in a bar in Tsim Sha Tsui.

The health secretary also pointed out residents who book hotel rooms for gatherings beyond four people—which increases risks of infection. She also warned the virus has since mutated and is now more infectious.

But health officials have talked to the sector, and Chan said it promised to test bar and restaurant staff rigorously as well as strengthen the implementation of health protection measures.

Bar operations have been resumed after the government eased social distancing measures in light of dwindling numbers of local cases. But Chan defended the decision to gradually relax the rules.

“We have always been serious in assessing the epidemic and local situation,” Chan said in Cantonese. “When we look at the global situation, some factors include the economy, the acceptability of the public, and the need for school to restart. Some activities would have to resume nonetheless. But such restart has been conducted with care and order.”

Chan said the government would not rule out tightening measures anew should the situation worsen.

Eleven of the 18 newly-confirmed coronavirus cases came from the Home of Treasure residential care home in Kwai Chung. A 57-year-old man was the first confirmed case from the home yesterday.

Dr. Chuang Shuk-kwan from the CHP on Wednesday reported that its residents did not comply with mask-wearing regulations and that residents would often go out.

The most recent case linked to the China Secret bar also went to two other bars in Tsim Sha Tsui. He was out with friends when he had a fever on Oct. 1—and two of his friends tested preliminary positive.

Department of Health director Constance Chan pointed out COVID-19 cases were also on the rise among the younger population. She appealed to everyone to do their part, as the situation was “very worrying.”