PCR tests upped to once a week for care-home staff

Some 40,000 care-home workers will be required to take Covid-19 polymerase chain reaction tests every week, double the frequency of the current fortnightly requirement as authorities brace for an increasing number of cases.

Indeed, if the local outbreak continues to grow, staffers may be required to take PCR tests every 48 hours while visitors will be required to present a negative PCR test taken within 48 hours and be triple jabbed.

Word of the measure came as Hong Kong recorded 3,256 cases and four deaths yesterday. Health authorities warned that public medical services could be overburdened if cases continue to rise.

In a meeting attended by the Department of Health, the Social Welfare Department and representatives from the care-home sector yesterday, authorities said the number of care homes that recorded outbreaks have grown to over 100 in the past few days.

Yesterday alone, three residents across three care homes tested positive, prompting dozens of staffers and residents to go into quarantine.

Grace Li Fai, a member of the Elderly Services Association of Hong Kong's executive committee, said that during the meeting, "[officials] said care-home workers can bring the virus back to the homes. As a prudent measure, all care-home workers have to take PCR tests every week."

Currently, all workers must administer rapid tests every day - in addition to a PCR test every two weeks - and upload their results online.

Li said the new measure will likely take effect today.

As for visitors, she said, they are currently only required to be double-vaccinated but this will be pumped up.

"They must get tested in community test centers in the 48 hours leading up to their visits, be triple-vaccinated and make bookings in advance," she said, describing the new policies as "much stricter."

However, she added, authorities will allow a "buffer period" before the visitor requirements take effect to accommodate those who have already booked their visits for the coming one to two weeks.

Currently, around 30,000 staff are looking after some 60,000 residents across 793 elderly care homes. There are also some 17,200 handicapped residents in 335 care facilities, overseen by 9,000 staff.

At the peak of the fifth wave in February and March, almost all the care homes here were hit by extensive outbreaks, with tens of thousands of elderly and handicapped residents sent to hospitals where they had no choice but to wait in corridors or outdoor areas due to lack of space.

Between January 1 and May 25, 52,775 care-home residents contracted Covid. Of these, 4,996 passed away, constituting over half of the city's death toll.

Speaking more broadly on yesterday's cases, the Centre for Health Protection's Chuang Shuk-kwan said 3,019 cases were locally transmitted and 237 imported, adding 385 schools have reported 498 cases in 408 students and 90 staffers.

She said she was worried the public health-care system would be overloaded if cases continue to rise but added authorities do not plan on tightening social-distancing measures because "the price is too high" though there is also no room for relaxation.