Hong Kong had its first COVID-19 cases in late January, however, despite sharing a border with mainland China, infection numbers remained relatively low and the spread was controlled quite quickly. Professor Paul KS Chan is currently the Chairman of the Department of Microbiology of the Chinese University of Hong Kong as well as the Chief Examiner in the Specialty of Clinical Microbiology & Infection under the Hong Kong College of Pathologists. He explains how Hong Kong has responded to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Hong Kong made a swift response to COVID-19 and a diagnostic test was available very soon after the culprit virus was identified. Initially, the testing service was provided by major public hospitals and the public health laboratory, and later extended to private hospitals and private laboratories. To assure the quality of testing, we still maintain a policy that all cases should be confirmed by the public health laboratory.
“Free tests are available at public general out-patient clinics as well as private clinics. In addition to testing persons with suspected symptoms or contact history, special surveillance programs were implemented from time to time according to the situation of the pandemic,” said Prof Chan.
In March, Hong Kong experienced its ‘second wave’, following the return of overseas students and residents which led to a spike in imported infections. This prompted Hong Kong to introduce strict border controls, allowing only residents to enter the territory from overseas, with all those returning required to undergo a COVID-19 test and 14-day quarantine.
“Since late March, our second wave, all persons entering Hong Kong from high-risk areas are tested regardless of the presence of symptoms. Since the start of the third wave in August, we have conducted intense focused testing programs for high-risk groups identified at that time, including taxi drivers, people working in elderly homes, restaurants and cafeterias, and wet markets.
“Testing capacity in Hong Kong increased from several thousand per day during the second wave, to more than ten thousand per day during the third wave. A special community-wide voluntary universal testing program was also completed in in mid-September. This meant that, with the support of a mass mobile testing centre setup, and operated 24/7 round the clock by a mission team from mainland China, 1.78 million people received a COVID-19 test within two weeks. Through this mass testing, 42 cases were identified,” said Prof Chan.
Earlier this month, the Chinese University of Hong Kong established a COVID-19 testing centre which aims to reach a daily testing capacity of 2,000. The centre specialises in stool testing, on top of usual respiratory specimens, to enhance the capacity to deliver a screening program for young children and infants in the community. A pilot study on more than 2,000 young children and infants supported stool as a good specimen of choice to detect asymptomatic infections.
“With our enhanced testing capacity and the experience we have had in managing the three waves, Hong Kong is in a much better position to face the coming challenges,” said Prof Chan.