Hong Kong's Universal COVID-19 Testing Program ’ It ended as of September 14 after health officials tested 1.78 million people. At the beginning, the expectation of the authorities was that at least four million people, out of a population of seven million, would volunteer for the test.
After Hong Kong saw a surge in local COVID-19 broadcasts in mid-July, Chief Executive Carrie Lam reached out to Beijing to help the city run a free, voluntary, universal testing program for the population of the city.
Medical experts criticized Lam's decision, doubting the effectiveness of universal tests in places that are not under total confinement, as is the case in Hong Kong. Others noted that by the time Beijing doctors arrived in the city in early August, the daily number of infections had already decreased.
In addition, pro-democracy activists led a city-wide test boycott campaign for fear of Beijing's involvement in logistics. The activists cited concerns about the possible collection of DNA data from Hong Kong citizens and about the use of that data in a future health code system, such as those implemented in mainland Chinese cities.
Lam dismissed those criticisms as “politically motivated.”
Hong Kong observers have argued that the universal tests would serve as a barometer for the city's level of public confidence. While Lam hailed the show as “a success,” its critics responded that the low turnout was a “symptom of a failed state.”
The test was not mandatory, but local media have reported that mainland Chinese school teachers, civil servants and company workers were forced to volunteer for the test.
The authorities have identified 32 positive cases, of which 40% are “weak positives”, which means that they are not contagious. The government was hopeful that the testing program could identify at least 1,500 asymptomatic propagators.
The cost of the universal test was also controversial. In total, the cost of the program is HK $ 1.42 billion (about US $ 183 million), with about a third borne by Hong Kong taxpayers. About 70% of Hong Kong's expenditures cover health personnel salaries, according to Civil Service Minister Patrick Nip.
Beijing covered the rest of the costs with temporary testing facilities, test kits and results processing. The latter is the responsibility of Sunrise Diagnostic Center Limited, whose parent company, BGI, has been involved in the construction of a gene bank in Xinjiang. BGI group is among the Chinese companies recently sanctioned by the United States Government.
In the weeks before the program began, there were advertisements in Beijing-related media and television channels urging people to volunteer for the free trial.
Numerous news reports used language such as “mainland Chinese medical tests worked tirelessly to safeguard the health of Hong Kong people.” Suspicious posts on social media praising the testing program have also been detected.
Here are some Twitter examples of searching for 全民 檢測 (universal tests). The account @ houpan123 tweeted September 9:
大家 都 睇到 了 ， # 全民 檢測 喺 短短 嘅 七天 時間 ， 已經 讓 香港 「煥然一新」 ， 民眾 嘅 臉上 洋溢 嘅 都 係 迎接 勝利 嘅 喜悅。 新 冠 肺炎 疫情 嘅 「，」 並 冇 讓 香港 退步 ， 反而 凝聚咗 更 強大 嘅 精神 逆流 而 上 ， 有 中央 安 港 護 港 ， 有 特區 政府 履職 盡責 ， 有 各界 民眾 團結 一心 ， # 香港 定 能 擺脫 疫情 ， 大獲全勝。
Now you will see the result. The universal test has given Hong Kong a fresh look in seven days. People have a smile of victory. The COVID-19 “attack” is not the reverse for Hong Kong. A spirit has been added to counter the current. With the presence of the central government to protect Hong Kong, the responsible Hong Kong government and the solidarity of the people. Hong Kong will overcome the pandemic and have a victory.
The account @ MariaCobbs4, recently created and without followers, tweeted September 7:
# 全民 檢測 才 可以 拯救 香港 ， 而 唔系 攬 炒 派。
The universal test is the way to save Hong Kong, not the mutually destructive protesters.
This tweet, also from September 7, is from @ dEouU90VxHQlXzz, another suspicious account, also without followers. This is retweeted four times:
全力 支持 全民 檢測 ， 相信 在 香港 人民 和 社會 熱心 人士 的 共同努力 和 關注 之下 ， 香港 疫情 會 早日 清零。
Full support for universal testing. The effort of the Hong Kong people and concerned citizens will bring Hong Kong back to “zero cases”.
Many Hong Kongers are skeptical of the program despite the propaganda.
Gary Fan, a pro-democracy politician, described the testing program as a Hong Kong government project to please Beijing:
全民 檢測 係 政府 嘅 政治 任務 ， 要向 中央 「戴罪立功」 ， 如果 最終 得 幾十 萬人 登記 ， 政府 「顏面 何 存」
This city-wide test is a political mission to please the central government. If less than a million people had arrived, the Government would have been badly off.
And these are some comments to a Facebook post from the public network RTHK News:
擺明 就 係 利益 輸送 ， 大陸 醫護 幾 錢 個 月 ， 啲 測試 藥 就 係 廢料 ， 港 共 政權 擋 香港人 錢 係 糞便 ， 好 快 儲備 就 掉 清 光。
This is a transmission of interest (to China). What is the monthly salary of mainland Chinese medical workers? The tests are rubbish. They take our money like garbage (sic) and we will soon exhaust all our reserves.
14 日 檢測 計劃 ， 薪金 洗 咗 3.7 億
即 每日 2,642 萬 ， CLS
總數 開 咗 141 個 檢測 中心 ， 即 係 每個 中心 、 每日 要 19 萬 人工 ， 係 每日！ 咩 概念
14 days of testing were spent and HK $ 370 million (US $ 47 million) was spent on salaries. On average, the daily salary is HK $ 26.42 million (US $ 340 million). It's crazy. There were almost 141 specimen collection sites, which means that the salary for each center is HK $ 190,000 (US $ 24,500). These are daily amounts! How do you imagine this?
3 億 7 千萬 ， 600 個 大陸 醫護 ， 平均 一個 大陸 醫護 60 幾萬
減 香港 嘅 公共 醫療 撥款 ， 以 全 香港人 嘅 醫療 資源 嚟 餵食 呢 幾百 個 仆街！
Three hundred and seventy million and the Chinese team has 600 medical workers. On average, were each paid 600,000?
Has Hong Kong's public health spending been cut (in recent years) and now we're spending so much on this useless junk?
全民 免費 ???? 5 億 公帑 點 收集 返黎 架?
Free universal trials ???? Where are those millions going to come from?