Hong Kong’s government has ordered the compulsory testing of all of its 7.5 million citizens as the city battles surging coronavirus (COVID-19) infections.
Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, said residents would have to undergo three rounds of tests starting in mid-March.
Schools will break early for summer and strict social distancing measures and travel curbs remain in place there.
The highly contagious Omicron variant has overwhelmed hospitals and testing and quarantine facilities this year.
Thousands of new cases are being reported in the former British colony every day. Mainland Chinese officials have been drafted in to help Hong Kong deal with an exponential rise in infections.
“The coming one to three months are crucial in fighting the pandemic,” Ms Lam told reporters. “This quickly worsening epidemic has far exceeded the Hong Kong government’s ability to tackle it, so there is great need for the central government’s support in fighting the virus.”
It’s the first time everyone in the territory has been tested – a policy enacted elsewhere in mainland China.
Authorities in Hong Kong, which had been hailed for its pandemic control over the past two years, are trying to adhere to the mainland’s “zero Covid” strategy.
It involves early testing, detailed contact tracing, and strict quarantine and travel restrictions.
The former British colony became a special administrative region of China in 1997, when Britain’s 99-year lease of the New Territories, north of Hong Kong Island, expired.
Hong Kong is governed under the principle of “one country, two systems”, under which China has agreed to give the region a high degree of autonomy and to preserve its economic and social systems for 50 years from the date of the handover.
But Beijing can veto changes to the political system, and pro-democracy forces have been frustrated by what they see as the slow pace of political reform.
Widely seen as Beijing’s preferred candidate, Lam secured 777 votes from the 1,194-member Election Committee which picks the city’s next chief and is believed to be dominated by Beijing loyalists. This was Hong Kong’s first leadership election since the 2014 pro-democracy protests. -BBC