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Wednesday, February 3, 2021

February 03, 2021
Government workers prepare a mobile testing unit outside a building under lockdown in the Kwun Tong neighborhood of Hong Kong, on Jan. 31. Photographer: Paul Yeung/Bloomberg

(Bloomberg) - Hong Kong is threatening to knock down the doors of residents who don’t respond to authorities conducting mandatory-testing blitzes, as the city tries to end a persistent winter wave of coronavirus cases.

“The government may take legal action including removing individuals or applying to a magistrate for a warrant to break into and forcefully enter a unit,” authorities said in a statement on Tuesday.

The Asian financial hub has been attempting to curb a fourth wave of Covid-19 infections with targeted lockdowns that have seen authorities cordon off an area and restrict movement until residents receive negative results. The government has suggested some might be deliberately evading the tests in areas that range from densely packed neighborhoods to just a handful of buildings.

During surprise lockdowns in four Hong Kong districts Monday evening, roughly 17% of the 680 households that officers visited didn’t answer the door, according to Bloomberg calculations. The government said it found no positive cases after testing almost 1,700 residents.

‘Ambush Style’

Hong Kong, a densely packed city of 7.5 million people, has been relatively unscathed by the virus compared to other major financial centers. The city has seen less than 10,500 total cases and just 182 deaths since the pandemic began.

But Hong Kong, which saw cases of the virus early in 2020 as it began its spread across the world, has encountered more waves than many other places, and is now enduring a prolonged round of stop-start social distancing restrictions. Residents and business owners eagerly looking for an end to a recession brought on by months of street protests followed by the pandemic are now having to endure what Chief Executive Carrie Lam has called “ambush-style operations.”

Hong Kong authorities have conducted eight operations and tested about 10,000 people since Jan. 23, but have only uncovered a total of 14 positive coronavirus cases. The latest six mini-lockdowns didn’t discover any positive cases.

Amid repeated criticism that the mini-lockdown tactic hasn’t been effective, Lam defended the government’s methods on Tuesday. She said they were just one preventative measure among many, and that the number of confirmed cases unearthed wasn’t the only metric of success.

“You can’t really measure the effectiveness of these operations by the number of cases identified,” Lam said at a weekly briefing ahead of a meeting of her advisory Executive Council. “I don’t think it’s a waste of resources.

Beijing’s Concern

These targeted test blitzes shouldn’t replace other efforts in tracing and testing people across the whole transmission chain, said Leung Chi-chiu, a former chairman of the Hong Kong Medical Association’s advisory committee on communicable diseases.

“Lockdowns for 12 hours and testing cannot detect cases in incubation,” said Leung. “It is important to avoid giving a false sense of security. Should that cause a delay in going for a retest for any resident with new symptoms, that could cause another embarrassing outbreak.”

In her remarks on Tuesday, Lam said Chinese President Xi Jinping had expressed concern about Hong Kong’s current spate of infections in a conference call last week.

“President Xi has expressed concern and worries, and that’s totally reasonable,” Lam said. “I believe the president is very much concerned. He wants to support us.”

— With assistance by Jinshan Hong, and Jon Herskovitz


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