Macao is facing a possible mass nucleic acid testing (NAT) drive to counter the threat posed by the Covid-19 outbreak in Guangdong.
Health Bureau (SSM) Director Alvis Lo Iek Long said that it would take at least four days to test all 682,500 people in the city.
The Novel Coronavirus Response and Coordination Centre (NCRCC) has announced that from 10 am today anyone travelling between Macao and Guangdong must present a NAT certificate confirming that they have tested negative for Covid-19 within the past 48 hours.
Before today, the negative NAT result for those travelling between the two regions without having to undergo quarantine was valid for seven days.
The validity of the negative NAT result for those travelling between Macao and all other provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities in the mainland remains unchanged at seven days.
The NCRCC warned that Macao residents who fail to present a valid NAT certificate when returning to the city from Guangdong would have to take an immediate test, while non-Macao residents without a valid NAT certificate would be barred from entry.
The Macao government has decided to shorten the validity of the negative result to 48 hours in order to “quickly and effectively” prevent Covid-19 transmission in Macao.
Lo stressed that in response to the ongoing virus transmission in Guangzhou and Foshan, the government has stepped up its Covid-19 prevention measures.
The government has imposed a 14-day hotel quarantine on travellers who have been to Haizhu, Liwan, Nansha, Panyu or Yuexiu districts in Guangzhou, and Chancheng or Nanhai districts in Foshan, within the past 14 days.
Lo noted that while Guangzhou has reported no more than 100 new Covid-19 cases, including asymptomatic ones, in the recent wave of transmissions, Macao has implemented a “considerably strong” measure by imposing quarantine on arrivals from five of Guangzhou’s 11 districts and two of Foshan’s five districts.
Lo pointed out that the SSM had required all those in Macao who had been in Guangzhou or Foshan within the past 14 days to undergo a one-off NAT by yesterday evening.
Lo urged residents to get inoculated against Covid-19 as soon as possible, saying they should “cherish and grasp” their chance for jabs while there are sufficient human resources available as Macao is currently not being affected by local Covid-19 cases.
Lo warned that if Macao is hit by local transmissions, the SSM would need to allocate its human resources to identifying and tracing the possibly “large” number of close contacts and the bureau’s Covid-19 vaccinations would “necessarily” have to be suspended.
According to the latest statistics, 209,051 doses of Covid-19 vaccine had been administered to 137,338 people in Macao, comprising 64,575 who had received their first jab and 72,763 who had received their second shot.
Lo said that although Macao’s Covid-19 vaccination rate has “finally” reached 20 per cent, it was still far lower than what is required to achieve herd immunity.
Lo underlined that the Health Bureau is building up its NAT capability, so it can launch a rapid citywide NAT drive. Under the bureau’s contingency plans 30 sample collection points would be set up across the city.
Lo said that in a worst-case scenario, if the SSM urgently needed to test everyone in Macao for the novel coronavirus, sample collection and testing would be carried out around the clock.
Lo also said that if the SSM was able to identify a clear transmission chain, it could carry out its community-based Covid-19 prevention and control measures – in which case mandatory nucleic acid tests would only be carried out for those living in Macao’s Covid-19 affected areas. However, Lo said, based on the experience of neighbouring regions, an invisible transmission chain would usually be created in a place quickly after new local Covid-19 cases have been detected there. As a result, Lo said, the government needs to prepare for a possible citywide NAT drive.
So far, a total of 5,332 people have reported on their Macao Health Code that they have visited Guangzhou or Foshan within the past 14 days. As of 5 pm yesterday, about 5,000 had submitted a sample for a NAT, none of which have come back as positive, The Macau Post Daily reported.
Long queues formed outside the Macao Forum in Zape yesterday as people waited to undergo nucleic acid testing.