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Lam hails joint efforts behind success of mass virus testing

By Eleanor Huang | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2020-09-16 18:30

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor gives a banner to the leader of the support team from Fujian province, Zhang Yongyu, as a thank-you for "bracing hardships to assist Hong Kong's fight against the pandemic" during a ceremony at the Central Government Offices on Tuesday. [PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY]

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor extended gratitude on Tuesday to everyone who made it possible to conduct the city's "unprecedented" universal coronavirus testing program.

The two-week program, which ended on Monday, identified 42 people infected with COVID-19.

The government also announced the further easing of social-distancing measures effective Friday, saying that many entertainment venues will be allowed to reopen and that restaurants can extend their dine-in hours.

Speaking at a news conference, Lam thanked the 6,500 local medical professionals, 4,000 current and retired civil servants, plus the community leaders, logistics workers, and the 579 mainland nucleic-acid test support team members for their efforts.

More than 1.78 million people were tested through the free, voluntary program, which began on Sept 1. Of the 42 cases identified by the program, 13 were asymptomatic and 20 were contracted from an unknown source.

Lam said the results from the program can give the government a better understanding of the city's pandemic situation and help the government prepare for future anti-pandemic efforts, offering officials insight when they make decisions on social-distancing restrictions and cross-boundary measures with the mainland and Macao.

Secretary for the Civil Service Patrick Nip Tak-kuen said at the news conference that the program has accomplished its objective of finding asymptomatic COVID-19 carriers and cutting off some local transmission chains in the city.

With an immense increase in testing capacity, the government now can conduct more large-scale testing for residents, Nip said. The government will continue to conduct regular testing for high-risk groups, he added.

Hong Kong on Tuesday recorded no local infections for the first time since early July. Bars, nightclubs, karaoke parlors, theme parks, swimming pools and party rooms will be allowed to reopen for seven days as of Friday. In addition, restaurants' dine-in service hours will be extended to midnight.

Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan Siu-chee urged residents to stay vigilant and not to let their guard down as the pandemic will not go away until a vaccine is found. She also warned that the pandemic could see a fourth wave in the city this winter.

The local catering and bar industry welcomed the relaxation of social-distancing measures. Yeung Wai-sing, chairman of the Association for Hong Kong Catering Services Management, said extending restaurants' dine-in hours is good news for the many restaurateurs who are struggling amid the pandemic.

Yeung also expressed hope that the government will further ease the social-distancing rules before the Mid-Autumn Festival, which this year falls on Oct 1.

Chin Chun-wing, vice-chairman of the Hong Kong Bar and Club Association, said bars can finally "see the light at the end of the tunnel" after the two-month shutdown.

"At least now we could earn some money to pay our rents," Chin said. He added he believes that local bars will set up a range of strict health measures for their customers to avoid another COVID-19 outbreak emerging from bars.

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