Editorial:Testing ability must be boosted

【明報專訊】HONG KONG'S streak of zero local COVID-19 infections has ended, as a woman in her sixties and her five-year-old granddaughter have caught the virus and their family members who live together also show symptoms. The two newly confirmed patients have not travelled recently and are not found to have visited a high-risk venue. As the source of infection is unknown, the case is worthy of concern.

According to the Centre for Health Protection, of the eight family members who have been in close contact with the woman, six have shown preliminary symptoms apart from the granddaughter who has already tested positive for the virus. The woman's husband is the only person without symptoms, but the latest news from last night is that he has been preliminarily diagnosed with the disease. There is no absolute way to prevent COVID-19 infection, the major reason being that a patient might be asymptomatic. The preliminary diagnosis of the husband accentuates this risk once again. It remains uncertain who was the first to contract the virus and in what venue he or she contracted the virus in this family cluster. The only certain thing is that there is an invisible chain of transmission at community level. According to local experts in disease control, testing shows that the woman carries a high amount of the virus and thus a risk of infecting others. As far as the development of the outbreak is concerned, the public must not lose hope, but they cannot be overly optimistic either. The new case does not necessarily presage a recurrence of community outbreaks. But all sides should prepare for the worst. The warning bell for a recurrence has been rung. Citizens have to heighten their vigilance and must not lower their guard.

As a case of local infection has emerged again, many citizens are concerned about whether the count of 28 days of infection should be reset and whether the relaxation of anti-pandemic measures should be called off. As Gabriel Leung, Dean of HKU's faculty of medicine, has said, as COVID-19 is highly capable of asymptomatic transmission, it is not really possible to eliminate it. The ideal benchmark of ''28 days' clean sheet'' might not be applicable to this pandemic. For a certain period of time, sporadic infections and even small-scale outbreaks will happen from time to time. This could be the ''new normal''. Everyone has to learn to live with the pandemic. Of the utmost importance is to strictly prevent these incidents from becoming large-scale community outbreaks.

Since the disease broke out, the government has repeatedly stressed that Hong Kong has one of the highest proportions of people tested for the virus in Asia, as an average of over 22,000 tests have been conducted for every one million people. While this figure is respectable, there are other places that have tested even higher proportions of their populations.

Hong Kong has a population of over seven million. There might be practical difficulties in executing a universal testing scheme. However, there is not another way to identify the hidden chains of transmission and hidden patients in the communities as soon as possible other than vastly scaling up virus testing. Yuen Kwok-yung believes that the Department of Health has enough manpower. If a timetable is drawn up appropriately and people work in shifts, the number of people tested every day can be increased. Gabriel Leung, another consultant, even says that if testing conducted by the private sector is taken into account, the government can boost the daily number of tests to over 10,000 when working together with the private sector. The government should listen more to suggestions made by experts and find ways to overcome the technical hurdles and significantly boost its testing ability and scope.

明報社評 2020.05.14:防疫措施張弛有道 病毒檢測必須加強







preliminary:happening before a more important action or event

presage:to be a warning or sign that sth will happen, usually sth unpleasant

benchmark:sth that can be measured and used as a standard that other things can be compared with

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