A swab sample is collected at a makeshift Covid testing site at the Queen Elizabeth Stadium in Hong Kong on September 1, 2020. Photo: AFP / Anthony Kwan

Hong Kong is planning four test centers and to partner with private laboratories to offer low-cost coronavirus tests to those going to visit Singapore in the proposed “travel bubble” scheme.

The centers will start operating in mid-November and provide tests at HK$240 (US$30.95) per person, the government said.

The centers will collect combined nasal and throat swabs and test for Covid-19 to serve general community uses such as cross-boundary travel but not for medical diagnosis and treatment.

They aim to serve all asymptomatic individuals, including Hong Kong residents and non-residents, who are over six years old and suitable for testing.

The facilities will be at Quarry Bay Community Hall in Eastern District, Henry G Leong Yaumatei Community Center, Lek Yuen Community Hall in Sha Tin and Yuen Long Town East Community Hall and be open daily from 8am to 1.30pm and from 2.30pm to 8pm. Deep cleaning and disinfection will be conducted when the centers close in the afternoon and at night.

The contractors of the four testing centers are Prenetics (Quarry Bay Community Hall in Eastern District), Kingmed Diagnostics (Henry G Leong Yaumatei Community Center), Hong Kong Molecular Pathology Diagnostic Centre (Lek Yuen Community Hall in Sha Tin) and BGI (Yuen Long Town East Community Hall).

Chief Executive Carrie Lam said this week that private laboratories would be able to lower their costs if they could use community halls to provide services.   

Jason Wong, chairman of the Travel Industry Council of Hong Kong, said the testing fee of HK$240 was reasonable but the total testing costs for a round trip between Hong Kong and Singapore would still cost HK$2,500 for the four tests in the two cities. Wong said the Hong Kong government should discuss with Singapore to see how the costs could be further reduced.

The “travel bubble” scheme between Hong Kong and Singapore was expected to kick off by the end of this month, said Edward Yau, Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development. The Hong Kong government was seeking to reach similar agreements with other places such as Japan and South Korea, depending on the epidemic situations in these places.

Yuen Chun-ning, chief executive of Worldwide Package Travel, said about 60,000 people would join the “travel bubble” scheme between Hong Kong and Singapore per year, which is about 20% of the normal level. Yuen said a “travel bubble” scheme with Japan would not be too helpful for Hong Kong’s tourism sector as many travelers would be deterred by the complicated anti-epidemic rules in Japan.

As at Thursday noon, seven cases were recorded in Singapore, bringing the total to 58,043, according to the city state’s Ministry of Health. The new cases included six imported cases and one case in the community.

In Japan, daily new cases reported on Thursday topped 1,000 for the first time since August 21. The surge came after the government eased restrictions and promoted travel within the country to boost the economy.

In South Korea, a total of 125 cases were recorded on Thursday, bringing the total number to 27,050. 

In Hong Kong, the Center for Health Protection said Thursday that seven cases were identified within the 24 hours on Wednesday. These included six imported cases and one local infection with no known source.

A 40-year-old man, who lived in Shui Lau Tin Tsuen in New Territories and worked as aircraft engineer at the Hong Kong International Airport, was identified to be infected on Wednesday.

During his incubation period, he had visited the 448 Farm, a privately operated country park, in Yuen Long. His wife developed a fever and a sore throat. His two children tested negative preliminarily.

Chuang Shuk-kwan, director of the Communicable Disease Division at the Center for Health Protection, said health officials were investigating whether this new case could be linked to previous cases.

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