Hong Kong to set up new anti-epidemic task force to prepare for mass testing

Hong Kong to set up new anti-epidemic task force to prepare for mass testing

John Tse will take a leading role in the task force, insiders say. (South China Morning Post photo)

HONG KONG: Hong Kong is mobilising police in the battle against Covid-19 by getting a new anti-epidemic task force under the Security Bureau to prepare for universal testing, the South China Morning Post has learned.

Sources said the former head of the police public relations branch, John Tse Chun-chung, currently commander of Kwai Tsing district, would also be seconded to the bureau to take a leading role in the task force starting on Monday.

Tse was the face of the police force when the city was rocked by anti-government protests in 2019.

With the city reeling from a worsening fifth wave of infections, it was revealed earlier that more than 1,000 retired officers from the disciplined services had been recruited to staff isolation facilities.

The administration has been racing to identify facilities to isolate tens of thousands of residents who have tested positive for Covid-19 but are still stuck at home.

The city’s leader has tasked Secretary for Security Chris Tang Ping-keung, a former police chief, with overseeing the operation of community isolation facilities. An anti-epidemic task force was then set up by Tang to speed up the measures.

Infected residents cannot be isolated at home, even if they have mild or no symptoms, under the city’s “dynamic zero-infection strategy”. Close to 30,000 people are waiting to be moved into isolation facilities.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor earlier said about 20,000 units had been identified for the purpose, including thousands converted from public rental flats and 10,000 from existing hotel rooms, as well as more than 9,000 being built at the government’s Penny’s Bay quarantine camp and the deserted Kai Tak Cruise Terminal.

But such facilities will require large numbers of staff to operate them, especially as many more cases are expected to be uncovered during universal testing, which sources said could be launched next month.

Under the government’s preliminary plan, the city’s entire population of about 7.4 million will be tested a few times in a short period. Authorities will use residents’ identity cards for scheduling to make sure everyone takes part. Children without an ID card will be tested with their parents.