Hong Kong’s government is locking down whole residential blocks overnight without issuing prior warning to residents under a new tactic designed to prevent people from skipping Covid-19 testing.
The authorities have been conducting mass, compulsory coronavirus tests over the past 10 days in a bid to contain new infections of the virus, and is using a range of strict enforcement measures including fines of HK$5,000 (£500) for those failing to take the tests.
Videos have been widely shared online of the “ambush-style” lockdowns, showed dozens of police officers racing across streets and unrolling tape to seal off blocks as some residents attempt to flee.
The authorities on Tuesday allowed officials to break into the houses or “forcefully enter a unit” to remove people as part of the mandatory testing blitzes, a move criticised by the residents.
“The government may take legal action including removing individuals or applying to a magistrate for a warrant to break into and forcefully enter a unit,” authorities said in a statement.
The residents of the area are only allowed to leave after showing a Covid-19 test report and the targeted lockdowns are imposed for up to a couple of days until all have been tested.
The surprise lockdown strategy has proved divisive, with many questioning its effectiveness after a number of the communities targeted – generally densely packed, poorer neighbourhoods – returned very low numbers of positive tests.
“This ‘ambush-style lockdown’ is pathetically sad and infuriating. The govt officials have no clue what they’re doing (or don’t give a damn) and have zero respect for the citizens. Perhaps it’s just all a show to the Beijing overlord, that’s why it has a ‘mainlandish’ feel to it,” said a resident on Twitter.
On Tuesday evening, three blocks of Jordan, Sham Shui Po, and Tin Shui Wai were locked down in another round of operations. Only one positive case was found in Jordan after 2,170 were reportedly tested.
Another operation in the densely packed Kowloon neighbourhood of Jordan found 13 cases after 7,000 tests last weekend. And in another, authorities found zero cases after conducting 2,100 tests.
The city of 7.5 million people has seen a comparatively low number of cases throughout the pandemic, recording 10,500 infections in total and just 184 deaths. Tuesday saw the addition of 25 confirmed cases,
According to a Bloomberg report, about 17 per cent of the 680 households did not respond to officials who visited the houses for testing on Monday evening. Residents fear being placed under lengthy and strict quarantine measures if they or their neighbours do test positive even as asymptomatic cases.
Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam was the one who dubbed the surprise lockdowns “ambush-style operations” and defended the measure to control the virus.
“You can’t really measure the effectiveness of these operations by the number of cases identified,” Ms Lam said at a weekly briefing. “I don’t think it’s a waste of resources.”