Seven Chinese health officials arrived in Hong Kong on Sunday, the first members of a 60-person team that will conduct full-scale Covid-19 testing in the territory as it rushes to end another wave of illness.
The move marks the first time that mainland health officials have helped Hong Kong in its battle to control the epidemic.
The city has reported around 3,500 coronavirus cases and 34 deaths since January, far fewer than many other global metropolitan centers. But the daily number of new infections is triple digits over the past 12 days.
Members of the testing team, coordinated by the Chinese government, are mostly from public hospitals in Guangdong province, China’s National Health Commission said.
A group of local Hong Kong advisers said on Sunday that some local residents feared China would use their presence to collect DNA samples for surveillance.
The territory’s government denied the claims, saying virus testing would only be done in the city and samples would not be transported to the mainland.
In June, Beijing imposed a controversial homeland security law to tackle what China defines as secession, subversion and collusion with foreign forces, punishable by life in prison.
It has been widely criticized internationally as undermining Hong Kong’s autonomy, which was guaranteed by the phrase “one country, two systems” when Britain brought the city under Chinese control in 1997.
Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam said on Saturday she had asked Beijing for help due to the resurgence of cases. She said the government is investigating whether everyone in Hong Kong can be tested, local broadcaster RTHK reported.
Following an increase in the number of locally transmitted coronavirus cases in July, the territory introduced restrictions, including limiting gatherings to two people and imposing face masks in all outdoor public spaces.