‘HK$40M spent’ to suss out each COVID case in universal screening

Published (HKT): 2020.09.15 06:13

Hong Kong’s universal community COVID-19 testing scheme may have cost nearly HK$1.3 billion (US$167.7 million) by the time it ended on Monday, Apple Daily has found.

With only 32 previously unreported cases uncovered by the joint scheme, the low outcome works out to a cool HK$40 million or so expended to unearth each case, a bill that will be shared by the Hong Kong and mainland Chinese governments.

Medical experts and other critics have slammed the scheme as a political show that is ineffective in curbing the transmission chain. Authorities announced on Monday that as of 8 p.m., some 1.78 million people had participated in the two-week program. The attendance was less than a fourth of the city population of 7.5 million and way off the official target of five million.

Leung Chi-chiu, chairman of the Medical Association’s Advisory Committee on Communicable Diseases, told Apple Daily that the one-off scheme could not possibly stem infections in the community as the tests were taken at a particular point in time.

Fourteen more cases were reported in Hong Kong on Monday, including six found via the territory-wide testing scheme. The latest results brought the total number of infections to 4,971, including 101 related deaths.

Lawmaker Pierre Chan, who represents the medical sector, criticised the government for bulldozing its way through the implementation of the policy for “political gains” despite opposition. The hard-line stance was meant to highlight the mainland’s involvement in the city’s fight against the virus, he said.

To tackle future outbreaks, a better scheme should be put in place to stem imported cases through improved quarantine and border controls, Chan added, as well as higher hospital capacities to handle a surge in cases.

Earlier, Chief Executive Carrie Lam suggested that the scheme could uncover some 1,500 hidden carriers.

In initial calculations, the scheme incurred a sum of HK$890 million based on an estimation by University of Hong Kong epidemiologist Ben Cowling that each test cost HK$500 in laboratory fees.

That sum excluded approximately HK$400 million in other charges, including salaries for medical workers and administrative staff who worked at 141 sample-collection centres, expenses in personal protective equipment, promotional fees and the accommodation costs of a team of mainland Chinese who visited the city to carry out the tests.

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