Hong Kong: Fears China seeking to collect DNA hamper mass Covid testing

Mass testing for Covid-19 began in Hong Kong on Tuesday, September 1, 2020.
Mass testing for Covid-19 began in Hong Kong on Tuesday, September 1, 2020. © Reuters / France 24

Hong Kong began a vast Covid-19 testing programme on Tuesday, September 1, which authorities say is necessary to control the virus. But calls for millions of Hong Kong citizens to undergo testing have fallen flat amid fears China is secretly using the scheme to collect DNA and other information of participants.


Around 10,000 people underwent the free and voluntary tests on the first day of the campaign, including Hong Kong leader Chief Executive Carrie Lam.

But amid an increasingly severe crackdown on Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement by Beijing, the direct involvement of mainland Chinese firms and doctors in the testing scheme has raised concerns.

China has previously been accused by human rights groups of collecting DNA and other biometric data as part of mass surveillance efforts, particularly among ethnic Uighurs in Xinjiang, and some fear the Covid-19 tests are merely cover for a similar scheme in Hong Kong.

Earlier this week, a pro-democracy union of healthcare workers and several prominent activists called for a boycott of the testing scheme.

"With the experience of how red capital companies provided services in Xinjiang re-education camps and with the DNA collection for Uighurs, it's time to realise how Beijing and the Hong Kong government pretends and also facilitates the interference in Hong Kong by using the excuse of Covid-19,” activist Joshua Wong told a press conference on Sunday.

So far, around 600,000 people in total have signed up for testing at 141 centres across the territory.

But health experts have said as many as five million might need to be tested for the scheme to be effective.

Beijing and the Hong Kong government have rejected claims DNA will be collected and say they are only concerned with stopping the spread of the virus.

"We have stressed that it is a service made available to people of Hong Kong who want to have this test,” Lam said Tuesday. “It's also a service to enable us to identify the remaining infected cases in the community so that we could return to normal as soon as possible."

Hong Kong saw a new surge in Covid-19 cases in late July, recording around 150 infections a day. But cases have dropped significantly in recent weeks with just nine new infections on Monday.

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