Editorial : Mandatory testing

【明報專訊】The pandemic seems to be worsening in Hong Kong, deeply worrying disease control experts.

Since the end of the long holidays of the Mid-Autumn Festival and the National Day, the number of local infections has continued to increase. Over the past week alone, there have been more than ten cases of unknown sources, some of which have a high viral load. According to estimates by experts at the University of Hong Kong, the real-time effective reproductive number of the virus has risen above 1.0, meaning that a single patient can infect more than one person. This indicates a worsening of the spread of the virus in the communities and a red light for the rebound of the pandemic.

Some bars and restaurants have not fully complied with the pandemic prevention requirements; some have even violated the social gathering ban. There are also cases where infected persons or their close contacts provide false information to conceal their whereabouts, all of which are detrimental to the overall interest of society as a whole. The authorities need to exercise tougher enforcement and increase penalties. Once a business is found to have violated the law, it must be severely punished. If the situation is serious, the penalty should be license suspension, as fines alone might not carry much deterrent effect.

Since the outbreak of the pandemic, the government has tightened and relaxed the prevention measures three times. However, as in most countries and regions, the pandemic rebounds shortly after each relaxation, and the measures need to be tightened again. This makes it difficult for some industries to continue their operations. The oscillation between suspensions and resumptions of classes has had a great impact on students.

Until Hong Kong breaks out of this cycle of the pandemic, social and economic activities will not be sustainable and everyone will suffer. If we do not want this to continue, we will need more vigorous and efficient anti-pandemic measures so as to break free from this cycle. Compulsory testing of high-risk groups based on the trajectory of the pandemic is one of the options to be considered.

Early detection, early isolation and early treatment are the only key to the prevention and control of a pandemic. Virus testing can help identify the chains of transmission in the communities, which is very important for early detection and prevention. Early this year, Hong Kong's virus testing capacity was inadequate. Even if we had wanted to expand the scale of testing, we could not have done so. After the third wave of the pandemic, the testing bottleneck has been eliminated, so we should make good use of the existing capacity.

The government introduced free voluntary testing for taxi drivers in July, but the response was lukewarm. Of the 30,000 to 50,000 active taxi drivers in Hong Kong, only 14,000 eventually participated. Many drivers are worried that they will have to be quarantined after testing positive and this will affect their livelihood, resulting in a low testing rate.

Quite a number of people have suggested that the authorities should make the testing of specific high-risk groups a regular practice by conducting regular tests for taxi drivers, restaurant and hotel staff, nursing home workers and even residents, etc. However, if the testing is not mandatory, it may not be sufficient to attract the participation of these people even if it is free of charge or some incentives are provided.

Apart from targeting specific high-risk industries, mandatory testing should also cover premises, such as markets and housing estates where cases of unknown sources have been found and where hidden chains of transmission have been suspected. However, if the scope of compulsory testing is made too wide, some people will certainly question whether it is necessary and whether it will be too much a nuisance to the public.

明報社評2020.10.09:強制檢測助抗疫 具體執行求精準












mandatory : required by law

worsening : the process of becoming or of making sth worse than it was before

nuisance : a thing, person or situation that is annoying or causes trouble or problems

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