A mainland Chinese medical team has been sent to Hong Kong to carry out widespread testing as the city tries to tame another wave of coronavirus infections.
As of Sunday, August 2, Hong Kong reported 115 new coronavirus cases and two new deaths, according to the South China Morning Post. In total, the city has seen 3,511 cases and 37 deaths.
Hong Kong’s embattled leader Carrie Lam, who delayed the city’s Legislative Council elections last week over concerns about the virus spread, said on Saturday, August 1, that she asked Beijing for help in dealing with the surge in new cases.
Hong Kong is seeing its biggest spike in coronavirus cases since the outbreak began, with the daily number of new infections topping 100 over the past several days.
Authorities have tightened social distancing measures by shuttering non-essential businesses, capping physical group gatherings to two people and requiring masks to be worn in public at all times.
According to Reuters, the Chinese testing team has been sent in coordination with the Chinese government and includes health officials from public hospitals in the Guangdong province. Seven members of the 60-person team arrived on Sunday.
This marks the first time mainland medical practitioners have gotten involved in Hong Kong’s pandemic response efforts, sparking fears among locals that Beijing may be collecting DNA samples for surveillance purposes.
Concerns about Chinese surveillance have heightened in the wake of a controversial new national security bill imposed by Beijing in late June. Critics and rights groups say that the new law will afford Beijing sweeping powers and unprecedented access to crackdown on opponents and stifle dissent.
Following Sunday’s announcement, pro-democracy district councilor Lui Man-kwong led protests outside the Hospital Authority headquarters in Hong Kong, questioning whether testing data will be shared with mainland officials.
Pro-democracy activist and Demosisto founder Joshua Wong also took to Twitter to express suspicions about the mainland team.
“Up to now, Beijing and the Hong Kong government failed to provide details primarily about how DNA samples will be used during and after tests and whether those samples collected will be sent to the mainland afterward,” he said. “Worse still, even the city’s head in charge of controlling COVID-19 has never heard of the plan.”
In a series of tweets, Wong said that the information collected could be used for “genetic surveillance” of Hong Kong residents and highlighted how Hong Kong police have collected DNA swabs from protesters who violated the new national security law.
“DNA samples are used for tracking ethnic minorities and dissidents and also added to China’s sophisticated facial recognition systems as per reports. As China is paving ways to extend its surveillance systems to Hong Kong, it is worrying that Hong Kong may soon become Xinjiang,” Wong wrote.
“Since 2017, China has built a nationwide database of DNA samples. In the pretext of free health checks, blood samples from millions of Uighurs were gathered without consent,” Wong added.
According to China’s National Health Commission, Hong Kong opened up its first makeshift hospital on Sunday to tackle the swelling number of COVID-19 cases.
And with the assistance of Chinese medical experts, Chinese state broadcaster CCTV reported that all 7.5 million Hong Kong residents will receive free virus testing and that testing could be completed “within a few days”.
A Hong Kong government spokesman dismissed concerns that the mainland personnel would collect and send residents’ DNA information to Beijing, calling them “false rumors.”
“We condemn those who deliberately spread false rumors to attack the government’s anti-epidemic work,” the spokesman said on Sunday. “As to whether it would constitute a crime for spreading false rumors, relevant government departments will carefully study and collect evidence for follow-up.”