Hong Kong’s leader said Wednesday that mandatory Covid testing was not a priority, after announcing last month that the government intended to screen its more than 7.3 million residents for the virus.

Two weeks ago Carrie Lam had said all residents would need to undergo three rounds of compulsory testing — setting off alarm in the densely populated city currently in the throes of a deadly Omicron-fuelled wave.

But Wednesday’s announcement marked a roll-back, as authorities have now pivoted to using rapid tests — instead of PCR tests — to determine the city’s estimated cases, Lam said.

“A large number of (rapid tests) are already being used… which has already allowed us to understand Hong Kong’s situation pretty well,” she said.

“What we are doing now is planning and preparation but it’s not a priority for now,” she said, adding that the plan for universal testing has not been nixed.

Despite two years of hard-won breathing room thanks to the mainland’s zero-Covid strategy, Hong Kong now has one of the world’s highest fatality rates.

The majority of the deaths are elderly, among the most vaccine-hesitant in the city — fewer than 60 percent of people 70 and above have received two jabs.

Health experts — including Hong Kong’s top pandemic adviser — have expressed doubts over the effectiveness of mass testing, especially since the city currently lacks sufficient isolation facilities.


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