LCQ17: Special testing arrangement for travelling to Mainland or Macao
Since March 21 this year, apart from holding a negative result proof of a nucleic acid test conducted within 48 hours prior to the time of immigration clearance, travellers travelling to the Mainland or Macao by land have also been required to undergo an additional polymerase chain reaction (PCR)-based nucleic acid test at immigration control points prior to departure. Only those who receive a negative result may continue with their journeys. It has been reported that some travellers who had obtained a negative result in the former test obtained an indeterminate result in the latter test, and were thus unable to continue with their journeys. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) of the number of person-times of travellers to the Mainland or Macao who have undergone the aforesaid PCR-based nucleic acid tests at immigration control points since the implementation of the aforesaid measure, and set out by immigration control point the respective numbers and percentages of person-times obtaining positive, negative and indeterminate test results;
(2) whether it has studied the reasons for the aforesaid inconsistency between the former and latter test results; as some travellers have relayed that when they underwent the latter test again after waiting for a short while at immigration control points, the result obtained changed from indeterminate to negative, whether it has studied the reasons for that; and
(3) of the general waiting time for travellers to undergo PCR-based nucleic acid tests at immigration control points currently; whether the authorities will deploy additional manpower and increase the other resources needed to enhance testing efficiency, thereby shortening the waiting time for travellers to undergo testing and reducing their chance of being infected by other infected travellers?
To prevent the exportation of local cases and support the Mainland's anti-epidemic efforts, the Government has implemented a special testing arrangement since March 2022. Outbound travellers to the Mainland or Macao are subject to an additional free rapid polymerase chain reaction (PCR)-based nucleic acid test prior to departure from Hong Kong at the airport or land boundary control points (BCPs). Only those who receive a negative result can continue with their journeys. To further complement the Mainland's testing arrangements, the relevant special nucleic acid tests switched to using nasopharyngeal swabs (NPS) for specimen collection from April 13.
The reply to the various parts of the question raised by the Hon Rock Chen is as follows:
(1) For land BCPs, from March 21 to June 20, 2022, the numbers of rapid PCR-based nucleic acid tests performed for outbound travellers to the Mainland or Macao were over 51 000 and 17 000 respectively for the Shenzhen Bay (SZB) Port and the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge (HZMB) Hong Kong Port. The positive rates for the PCR-based nucleic acid tests conducted in the SZB Port and HZMB Hong Kong Port were 0.50 per cent and 0.39 per cent respectively.
As regards the airport, from March 29 to June 20, 2022, the number of rapid PCR-based nucleic acid tests performed for outbound travellers to the Mainland or Macao at the Hong Kong International Airport was over 21 000, and the positive rate was about 1 per cent.
Since the special nucleic acid tests switched to using NPS for specimen collection from April 13, the relevant positive testing rates have increased in the above three BCPs. As those who are tested positive cannot continue with their journeys, this means the corresponding cases exported to the Mainland and Macao have decreased.
(2) To support the Mainland's anti-epidemic efforts and testing requirements, the special tests are conducted with specimens collected by NPS. When travellers undergo the special tests at Hong Kong BCPs, their test results must be negative in order to continue with their journeys. Generally speaking, when the viral load is at a very low level, repeated specimen collection and testing might yield different results. This is a known phenomenon. Contractors who provide testing services to the Government all meet the quality assessment and possess the relevant medical laboratory accreditation. Contractors are also required to regularly participate in and pass the continuous quality assurance programme of the Centre for Health Protection (CHP) of the Department of Health, with samples provided by the CHP for comparative testing. The relevant arrangements also effectively ensure that the detection limits and sensitivity of the testing contractors meet the relevant Mainland requirements. Generally speaking, the different results of virus testing (such as pre-departure testing conducted in Hong Kong and post-arrival testing conducted in the Mainland) may be affected by factors such as the incubation period of the virus, and have nothing to do with the professional standard and accuracy of the testing. Unless all travellers also undergo closed-loop arrangement after taking the nucleic acid test within 48 hours before departure, infection during the period cannot be ruled out. The pre-departure rapid nucleic acid test deployed at the BCPs is set up to prevent the above situation.
(3) For the special test conducted at the SZB Port and HZMB Hong Kong Port, depending on the passenger flow of outbound persons at the land BCPs, it would take an average of about one to two hours. As the passenger flow to Shenzhen via the SZB Port has increased recently, in order to further reduce the time needed for the special testing procedures, the testing contractor has further increased the number of testing equipment and manpower upon the Government's request, increasing testing capacity by nearly 40 per cent, and the nucleic acid testing procedures at the SZB Port has been shortened by about 20 minutes to an average of about 80 minutes. Meanwhile, the testing contractor has also installed priority seats at the waiting area of nucleic acid test results at the SZB Port for persons with needs. In addition, to further facilitate travellers, the Government has been discussing with the relevant departments of the BCPs to further enhance the arrangement at the waiting area, including the addition of seats. The Government will continue to closely monitor the testing contractors and implement suitable improvement measures, in order to ensure the quality of nucleic acid test service.
Ends/Wednesday, June 22, 2022
Issued at HKT 17:50
Issued at HKT 17:50