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Hong Kong finds untraced cases as mass coronavirus testing ends

Nurses from the Bristol-Burlington Health District collects a patient's nasal swab at Bristol Hospital's drive-through coronavirus specimen collection station. The station has collected over 120 samples on previous days but, due to a scarcity of specimen collection kits, the hospital collects 40 tests a day. (Mark Mirko/Hartford Courant/TNS)
September 21, 2020

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

Hong Kong authorities on Thursday said they had discovered nine new cases of coronavirus, three of which came from unknown sources in the community, despite a controversial mass testing program since the start of September.

The city’s Centre for Health Protection said the nine additional confirmed cases had brought the total number of confirmed cases in Hong Kong to 4,994, while only three of the cases had a travel history.

Authorities in Mong Kok district have quarantined staff at a dim sum restaurant who may have interacted with one of the cases, while colleagues of an office worker in Kwun Tong were also being tested.

Contacts of the third case, an unemployed man, couldn’t be traced, government broadcaster RTHK reported, adding that the three remaining local cases were contacts of known cases.

Secretary for the civil service Stephen Nip said on Tuesday that a two-week U.S.$68 million mass testing program carried out by mainland Chinese company Sunrise Diagnostic Centre had achieved its policy objective, despite only detecting 32 new coronavirus cases.

Nip said a total of 1.8 million people were tested, in spite of calls for a boycott from pro-democracy activists, who feared the data gathered could be misused by the mainland Chinese authorities.

The testing program was also criticized for encouraging people to gather around district clinics and test centers near residential areas, which local people feared would fuel the spread of cases in their area.

Meanwhile, Sunrise’s parent company BGI Genomics will stop providing new local clients with an unrelated controversial DNA sequencing service after becoming embroiled in an intellectual property lawsuit.

U.S.-based Illumina Cambridge last month applied for a court injunction to prevent BGI selling test kits and reagents for which Illumina holds a Hong Kong patent.

The High Court ordered BGI to retrieve and destroy all sold test kits, and pay compensation to Illumina and to provide an explanation.

Surge of new cases

Hong Kong saw a sudden surge in new coronavirus cases in early July, partly linked to quarantine exemptions for airline staff, truck drivers from mainland China, and sailors on cargo ships.

At one point, the city was reporting more than 100 locally transmitted cases a day, although daily numbers have since dwindled to single digits.

The coronavirus testing program had sparked concerns that the DNA of Hongkongers would be sent to mainland China, potentially for law enforcement and surveillance purposes, prompting pro-democracy activists to advise boycotting the program.

Meanwhile, researchers on the democratic island of Taiwan said they had developed a rapid COVID-19 test kit that can deliver results in about 15 minutes with an accuracy rate of 80-90 percent, the island’s Central News Agency reported.

A team of researchers from the National Defense Medical Center (NDMC) and the National Health Research Institutes (NHRI) said several biopharmaceutical companies are now working on the kit, which should be ready to go to market by the end of the year.