Published: 13:44, March 21, 2022 | Updated: 19:08, March 21, 2022
COVID-19: HK suspends mass testing plan, lifts flight ban
By Li Bingcun

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor speaks about a government review of its pandemic control measures during a news conference in Hong Kong, March 21, 2022. (EDMOND TANG / CHINA DAILY

Hong Kong will shelve its compulsory mass testing program plan upon consensus by mainland and local medical experts that it is not suitable to conduct such testing at this stage, the city’s leader said on Monday. 

The announcement came as Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor outlined a roadmap for a gradual resumption of normal life in the city following a gradual decrease in number of COVID-19 cases in the Omicron variant-fueled fifth wave of outbreak. 

Following the passing of the peak, the government decided to bring into effect a raft of changes to its pandemic control measures from next month, including lifting of flight bans on nine countries and cutting quarantine period for arrivals in the city. 

READ MORE: HK must stay alert despite decline in cases, says Lam

Although a great deal of preparatory work for the mass testing has been done, experts suggest that the operation should be conducted in the early or late stages of the outbreak, not the current stage when the pandemic is still at a high level, the CE told an anti-pandemic news conference in the morning. 

When the time is suitable and conditions are appropriate, we will consider whether to use compulsory universal testing.

Carrie LamChief Executive, HKSAR 

Stressing that timing is key for such an exercise, she said: “Hong Kong’s epidemic situation has now been alleviated, but it remains at a high level. Experts have said it is not suitable to do universal testing at this stage.”  

As the scale of the operation will be unprecedentedly large, involving restriction on people’s movement, mainland experts held that it may be beyond the organizing capacity of local communities, and the city may fail to achieve the goal of universal screening. 

She stressed that the suspension does not mean the city plans to co-exist with the virus. “When the time is suitable and conditions are appropriate, we will consider whether to use compulsory universal testing,” she added. 

At the same briefing on the government’s “mid-term review”, the CE also announced to lift the flight ban on nine countries starting from April 1. After that, vaccinated Hong Kong residents from the countries can return to the city by flights.

In light of the pandemic development, the flight ban is no longer suitable. The infection risk in some of the nine countries is even lower than Hong Kong, according to Lam. 

ALSO READ: HK 'must keep strict social distancing measures at this stage'

The current 14-day mandatory quarantine requirement for most passengers would be reduced to seven days, as if their test results showed negative on the sixth and seventh days of the isolation period, she said. 

In this Feb 18, 2022 file photo, a man walks along an almost empty airport in Hong Kong. Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced on Monday that the city would lift flight bans on nine countries as coronavirus infections in its latest outbreak plateaus. (KIN CHEUNG / AP)

She said she had asked officials to designate more hotels as quarantine facilities for travelers. 

Lam also announced that primary schools, international schools and kindergartens can resume face-to-face classes on April 19 at the earliest.  

Secondary schools however will also follow suit after the Diploma of Secondary Education Examination, which is still scheduled to begin on April 22, she added.