Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam says Compulsory Universal Testing (CUT) is no longer the government's top priority although plans are still underway for it.
In her press conference on 9 March 2022 (Wednesday), Hong Kong's Chief Executive Carrie Lam used the opportunity to outline the government's anti-epidemic strategy, as Hong Kong continues to battle its fifth COVID-19 wave, adding that there would be daily press conferences from her until this wave is under control.
Here's what we learned.
Since the first mention of a compulsory testing scheme last month, details on the specifics had been few from the government. In Wednesday's press conference, Lam said that planning for the mass testing was still underway; however, the administration had shifted its immediate focus to protecting the vulnerable and preventing death.
"Mandatory testing for all is still a work in progress. (For) when we start, we must consider the epidemic situation in Hong Kong, and (how to) achieve the best results, but if the plan and preparations are not detailed, there will be no chance to carry out mandatory testing for all," Lam said at the press conference. "Therefore, the current position of the SAR government is that whether the manpower, location, resources, and materials can be in place on time when preparing for the specific implementation of the plan, but when it will be carried out, of course, depends on when the best results will be achieved."
"Having absorbed the opinions of Mainland experts, especially Professor Liang Wannian (the head of the National Health Commission's leading task force leading the response to the pandemic), who has been inspecting our work non-stop for more than a week, we believe that the focus of work at this stage should be to reduce deaths, fewer severe illnesses, fewer infections," said Lam.
"By rapidly expanding the treatment capacity of medical institutions, that is, hospitals, we will focus on admitting and treating people infected with the new coronavirus (strain) into the hospital, and concentrating resources to treat patients, so as to prevent these patients from deteriorating and becoming severe or critical cases, or even unfortunate deaths."
The government announced a raft of new measures including the conversion of Queen Elizabeth Hospital into a designated hospital for the treatment of new COVID-19 patients and creating a closed-loop system for workers of care homes.
"The Hospital Authority (HA) will try to identify the high-risk patients in the community as early as practicable. These patients include the elderly aged 70 or above, children aged five or below, women at 28 or more weeks of pregnancy, and immunocompromised patients such as organ transplant recipients and those with immune system disorders or long-term use of immunosuppressive drugs. Priority for support and treatment will be given to them," a HA spokesperson said in a press release.
The hospital authority has implemented other measures such as:
- The ability to book at HA's designated clinics for medical consultation;
- A nursing team from the Patient Support Call Centre will review the list of confirmed patients on a daily basis and proactively contact patients of the high-risk groups and conduct health assessments;
- Calling the enquiry hotline 1836115 for medical support and a referral to a doctor for tele-consultation will be made if needed; and
- An Isolation Care Monitoring System will also be launched shortly to support confirmed patients with a new online platform.
RAT website launch
This week, the government also launched its website for members of the community to self-report positive test results from 'rapid antigen tests' (RAT).
"(This will help) to assist the Department of Health to get more comprehensive and updated information of the current disease situation in Hong Kong. It will also help to expedite the support, both medically and other social support, for confinees who stay at home," Controller of the Centre for Health Protection Dr Edwin Tsui said at the launch of the website this week.
The voluntary platform requires users to declare their positive test results, and provide their personal information as well as those of their family members. Users are also asked to detail their symptoms and living conditions. While medical staff would also be deployed to visit some people to collect specimens for PCR tests.
Health authorities on Wednesday, 9 March reported 58,757 new coronavirus cases and 291 COVID-related deaths.
The Centre for Health Protection (CHP) said 25,991 infections had been confirmed by PCR tests while 32,766 people had notified the authorities that they had tested positive for COVID-19 in self-administered rapid antigen tests.
Hairdressers are now open
While the rest of the SAR's social distancing measures were extended for another two weeks (until 23 March 2022), the government announced a relaxing of the rules for hair salons and barbers.
Barbershops and hair salons will be allowed to reopen on 10 March 2022 with the full implementation of the Vaccine Pass. People who enter or are present at these premises must have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose, the government announced.
Customers of these shops and salons must use the LeaveHomeSafe mobile app. Patrons and staff must also wear a mask.
Except for clubhouses, hotels or guesthouses, and barbershops or hair salons, scheduled premises regulated under the Prevention & Control of Disease (Requirements & Directions) (Business & Premises) Regulation must continue to suspend operations.
Catering businesses continue to cease selling or supplying food or drink for consumption on the premises after 6pm. The maximum number of people per table is two for the rest of the business hours.
Image / HKSAR government