The Chinese territory of Hong Kong has started a mass testing program for the novel coronavirus.
Thousands of people lined up at more than 100 testing centers Tuesday, on the first day of the program. Hong Kong officials say the testing is an important step in the fight against the virus.
Critics are distrustful of the program, which receives support from China’s central government. Some have expressed fear that the tests could be used to collect DNA from Hong Kong residents.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam told reporters that more than 10,000 people – including many government ministers – had been tested by Tuesday morning.
“This large-scale universal community testing program is beneficial to fighting the epidemic and beneficial to our society,” Lam said. The effort would help the city overcome the health crisis and was a necessary step before the return of normal day-to-day activities, she added.
More than 500,000 people in the city of 7.5 million signed up for the testing before it began. The process is expected to last at least a week, possibly two. In all, the government estimates that at least 5 million people will be tested.
The program is aimed at identifying silent carriers of the virus — those without symptoms — who could be spreading the disease.
Priscilla Pun, a sales manager, told The Associated Press she got tested to give herself peace of mind. “I don’t see any reason not to do it, and this way I can let my family in Canada know that I am safe,” she said.
Other Hong Kongers, like Giselle Ming, said she decided to take part to support the government effort, although she was not worried that she might be a carrier of the virus. “In this bad situation of the coronavirus, I hope I can do something to help the society,” she said.
Hong Kong’s worst outbreak of the virus came in early July. At its peak, the territory recorded more than 100 locally spread cases a day, after going weeks without any in June. The outbreak has since slowed, with the city reporting just nine cases on Monday. That was the first time in two weeks that daily infections fell below 10.
Some pro-democracy activists, such as Joshua Wong, have publicly opposed the testing program. He called for a boycott, pointing to Swedish news reports that some test kits used there had high rates of false-positive results. Lam noted that while false-positives can happen, the tests being used in Hong Kong had passed quality and performance testing.
Wong suggested that a full closure of the border would be a better measure than the government tests. He said the current program was “like having a pregnancy test without having birth control.”
Lam has dismissed criticism of the testing plan as an attempt to “smear the central government.”
A pro-democracy union of healthcare workers formed during the protests last year also opposes the program. The Hospital Authority Employees Alliance, which has 20,000 members, said mass testing was not the most effective use of resources and called for more focused testing instead.
“It is clear to see that the government has one and only one goal ... to use the (coronavirus crisis) to achieve their own political aims,” union leader Winnie Yu told a press conference. “They shall do whatever they can to please the central government of China, even if it means placing politics above all things else,” Yu added.
I’m Bryan Lynn.
The Associated Press and Reuters reported on this story. Bryan Lynn adapted the reports for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
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Words in This Story
DNA – n. short for deoxyribonucleic acid -- a substance that carries genetic information in the cells of plants and animals
beneficial – adj. helpful or useful
society – n. a large group of people who live in the same country or area and have the same laws, traditions, etc.
symptom – n. a change in the body or mind which indicates that a disease is present
outbreak – n. a sudden start or increase in the spread of a disease or fighting
positive – adj. in a medical test, positive means the person being tested has a disease or condition
smear – v. to say unpleasant or untrue things about someone
focus – v. to direct attention at something
achieve – v. succeed in doing something good, usually by working hard