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Sunday, November 29, 2020, 22:34
Mandatory citywide testing a must to clear COVID-19
By Willa Wu
Sunday, November 29, 2020, 22:34 By Willa Wu

Since the start of 2020, I tied my own feelings closely to the daily confirmed local COVID-19 cases: relieved when there is none, anxious when there is one, and frustrated if the number is more than one.

I think many in the city share the same feelings as me, especially those with business, loved ones and families across the boundary. The number of local cases is the most important indicator for doing away with the quarantine requirement.

Now with the Chinese mainland having managed to contain the pandemic, Hong Kong has cut the 14-day compulsory quarantine for its residents who come back to the city from Guangdong province. More mainland cities and provinces will be included to the city’s quarantine-free points of origin, according to the Hong Kong government.

But the mainland has not yet let down its guard against imported cases from Hong Kong. On the same day, the Hong Kong government announced its decision to place a 14-day hotel quarantine requirement on those who arrive in the city from places other than the mainland; and three local cases were recorded. One day later, seven local cases were found.

The pandemic situation has gotten worse in Hong Kong in the past several days, with the majority of new infections being locally transmitted cases.

That means the 14-day quarantine requirement implemented by the mainland will remain in place. Moreover, different mainland cities have different quarantine policies toward travelers from Hong Kong. Even if a person has undergone quarantine in Shenzhen or Zhuhai, which is required immediately when crossing the boundary, they might still face another quarantine if they travel beyond those two cities.

A week ago, a friend of mine needed to go back to Shenyang in Liaoning province to visit his mother, who had just undergone major surgery. The local authority informed his family that he should undergo a seven-day home quarantine once he set foot in his home city. It will take him 35 days — more than a month — for just quarantine. He canceled his trip.

Even if Hong Kong adds more mainland cities to its quarantine-free list, Hong Kong people still need to face a quarantine of at least two weeks on the mainland. The inconvenience caused, needless to say, is unbearable, let alone the frustration.

Recently, an article went viral on WeChat, joking that if you want to spend the coming spring festival, which falls on Feb 12, on the mainland, you’d better leave Hong Kong now. But for an employed person, who will have such a long holiday?

Spring festival is a time the Chinese value the most. I don’t dare to imagine how upset people will feel if the free flow of people does not resume at that time. And frustration is never a good thing for any city development.

Recalling the interviews I did earlier this year with cross-boundary families who suffered separation from their family members, one sentence struck me most: “At least the government should let us see hope.” The Hong Kong government should act tougher in clearing local cases — giving hope to its residents who desire a reunion.

It is pleasing to see the special administrative region government announce that allowing visitors to enter quarantine guest rooms is a criminal offense and offenders are subject to a maximum imprisonment of six months and a fine of HK$25,000 ($3,225). That is a good way to prevent the virus entering communities.

But the government should also take the tougher measure — a comprehensive mandatory citywide virus test — in a bid to clear the local cases. Successful experience on the mainland shows that such a measure is the most cost-effective way to put pandemic under control and bring life back to normal.

The previous voluntary citywide virus test implemented in September did help to detect some invisible transmission chains in the community. But let’s face it. With only 1.78 million residents participating in the program, the effect was limited, as evidenced by the untraceable cases reported now.

The concerns raised for the September citywide test, like privacy leakage, were all found to be ungrounded. The 14-day testing program went smoothly and no complaints were filed. Most importantly, it has enhanced Hong Kong’s testing capabilities and experience in organizing mass community events.

With the Christmas holiday and spring festival around the corner, it is high time for the SAR government to bring the citywide testing program back to the table. And this time, it should be mandatory — everyone is required to take part.

Let people see hope.

The author is a Hong Kong-based journalist.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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