Inside one of Hong Kong's Covid-19 city-wide testing centers. Photo: AFP via NurPhoto/ Tommy Walker

The Hong Kong government is considering mandatory tests in the city after the number of local infections surged in the past two weeks.

There was a need for mandatory tests on high-risk groups so the government could gather more public health information to decide the epidemic rules, Sophia Chan, the Secretary for Food and Health, said Thursday.

The government was looking into the legal aspects of mandatory tests as some citizens might have concerns, Chan added.

In the first two weeks of September, the government identified 42 patients directly and indirectly after testing 1.78 million people in a voluntary Universal Community Testing Programme, which cost a total of HK$530 million (US$68.4 million), or HK$300 per person.

However, medical experts estimated that at least 40 asymptomatic patients were still in the community.

The Centre for Health Protection said Thursday a total of 18 cases were recorded, including four imported cases, 13 that could be linked to previous cases and one with an unknown source, within the previous 24 hours.

Between October 2 and 8, a total of 35 local infections were recorded, compared with eight cases a week earlier, according to the Centre for Health Protection. About 20% of the local cases had no known sources.

The epidemic situation in Hong Kong recently showed signs of deterioration, said Constance Chan Hon-yee, the Director of Health of Hong Kong.

It was inevitable for Hong Kong to have a “fourth wave” of the epidemic, but the government hoped it could be delayed and mitigated as much as possible, Chan said.

The government would provide free Covid-19 testing through the Hospital Authority’s 46 general out-patient clinics to those who perceive themselves to have a high risk of exposure and experience mild discomfort, she said.

The Health Department would also urge hotels to set up guidelines and forbid people from different families staying in the same room during “staycation,” Chan said.

Recently, a Hong Kong woman had complained in a post on social media that she and 20 of her friends threw a birthday party in a hotel room, but were asked to leave by staff for public health reasons.

She said they finally threw the party in another hotel and would never visit the original venue again. A photo showed all guests were unmasked.

The woman was slammed by netizens for having ignored social distancing rules during the party. She later apologized for her behavior.

Meanwhile, medical experts said the government should prepare to tighten the epidemic rules again if the number of local infections continued to grow.

The increase in infections with unknown sources will have a knock-on effect, with more related cases appearing one after the other and an acceleration in the rebound of Covid-19, said Leung Chi-chiu, the chairman of the Medical Association’s advisory committee on communicable diseases.

The government should consider introducing specific measures for individual sites or groups where there have been outbreaks reported and intervene as soon as possible, Leung said. Students should avoid social gatherings, while the number of after-school activities should be reduced, he said.

Yuen Kwok-yung, a microbiologist at the University of Hong Kong, said it was likely there would be more cases connected to restaurants in the coming days because many people dined out during the mid-autumn holidays last week.

Yuen said people could take more photos on their phones to record where they had been. He said that would help authorities with contact tracing. He also suggested people in bars should consumer their beverages through a straw with their masks on.

The reproduction number of the coronavirus, known as the R-rate, had been predicted to rise above one over the past few days from 0.6 at the end of last month, indicating an expansion of the disease, said Gabriel Leung, the dean of the University of Hong Kong’s Faculty of Medicine.

The government should be prepared to tighten social distancing rules again when necessary, he added.

Read: Fears of fourth wave epidemic rise in Hong Kong