HONG KONG — Hong Kong’s government, borrowing from the playbook used in Wuhan, China, at the start of the pandemic, will mandate coronavirus testing for its entire population of 7.5 million, turning schools and other facilities into testing sites.
The program will begin in March, staggering groups to be tested by birth dates, and noncompliance will be punished with a fine, the government announced.
Carrie Lam, the territory’s chief executive, did not fully detail Tuesday how and when the mandatory testing would be carried out, saying only that every resident of Hong Kong will have to be tested three times. Samples would be sent to the mainland, Lam said, if there is no testing capacity locally.
“We are talking about an emergency,” Lam said. “Given the current circumstances, we must do it, even if there are legal constraints. This is the mindset we need to have if we are fighting a battle.”
Lam also announced Tuesday that strict social distancing restrictions in place since the beginning of the year — including closures of gyms and beauty salons — will continue until the end of April. Flights from nine countries including the United States will also continue to be barred from arriving in the city until then.
Hong Kong has kept covid largely at bay until this year, when the more infectious omicron wave spread through the city, hitting the unvaccinated and elderly in particular. New infections have broken records daily, reaching more than 7,000 on Monday, along with deaths, including that of an 11-month-old.
Hong Kong has been under pressure from mainland China to control its outbreak despite the damage that restrictions are doing to businesses and the city’s overall viability as a financial center. Lam said Tuesday that teams have arrived from the mainland to help with testing, construction of isolation facilities and other mitigation measures.