Hong Kong to offer free coronavirus testing for all residents

A health worker puts a swab sample from a taxi driver into a container for COVID-19 test at a makeshift testing station in a parking lot following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Hong Kong

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Hong Kong will offer free voluntary coronavirus testing for residents, leader Carrie Lam said on Friday, as the global financial hub races to contain a resurgence of the virus over the past month.

The plan, which will enable citywide testing for the first time, is likely to be implemented in two weeks at the earliest, Chief Executive Lam said.

The announcement comes less than a week after China sent a team of health officials to Hong Kong to carry out widespread testing for COVID-19. It is the first time mainland health officials have assisted Hong Kong in its battle to control the coronavirus.

"The situation in Hong Kong is still critical, with the number of cases remaining high," Lam told reporters as she sat in front of a largescreen digital backdrop which read 'Fight the virus with the central government's full support'.

Lam said she had asked Beijing in late July to help increase Hong Kong's virus testing capabilities and facilities. She also sought to dispel fears among some people that China may use it as an opportunity to collect DNA samples for surveillance purposes.

"It is a false accusation and smear to say DNA samples of Hong Kong citizens would be sent to the mainland," Lam said, adding that all samples would be destroyed after testing.

The Chinese territory saw a surge in locally transmitted coronavirus cases at the start of July and introduced a raft of tightening measures including restricting gatherings to two people and making wearing masks mandatory in all outdoor public spaces.

Since January around 3,900 people have been infected in Hong Kong, 46 of whom have died. Hong Kong reported 89 new coronavirus cases on Friday, of which 81 were locally transmitted.

(Reporting by Yanni Chow; Writing by Farah Master; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)