What you need to know about COVID-19 testing in Hong Kong.
Hunkering down at home with the family to ride out the sudden uptick in coronavirus numbers in Hong Kong is a good plan, but is it enough? With an (almost) daily three-figure surge in positive figures in the 852, many cases still untraceable, the fear and the uncertainty about this virus has taken over our thoughts even more, and perhaps getting tested is on your mind.
We’ve seen how social distancing and masks have previously helped Hong Kong return to near-normalcy when most of the world was grappling with the uncertainty of a lockdown. But now the virus seems to be defying prediction and is growing in the city at a rapid pace. With more than 2,500 cases coupled with over 20 deaths, the stakes are high for Hong Kongers and we need an outbreak plan; one in which we hope for the best but prepare for the worst. With this in mind, we take a look at some frequently asked coronavirus questions and offer a guide to COVID-19 testing in Hong Kong.
Editor’s note: In the wake of rising coronavirus cases in Hong Kong, the Centre for Health Protection has set up a hotline for any public queries on COVID-19 2125 1122. See their dedicated page for the most detailed and up-to-date information about the situation in HKSAR.
The situation in Hong Kong regarding closures and restrictions due to the coronavirus is constantly evolving. Many hospitals and clinics are taking extra precautions, but please make sure you follow the latest government advice and stay home if you have recently travelled overseas, have interacted with anyone who has been away, or display any symptoms. Be sure to contact the medical facility in advance prior to booking or attending in-house tests.
Types Of Coronavirus Tests in Hong Kong
There are two broad types of COVID-19 tests in Hong Kong:
- The antigen test (that looks for active SARS-COV-2 virus in your body)
- And the antibody test (that will confirm if you’ve been previously exposed to the virus and developed an immune response towards it)
There are three kinds of antigen coronavirus tests on the offer now, each with a different sensitivity:
The PCR test (polymerase chain reaction) is the gold standard in COVID-19 testing and the only valid test to show if you are COVID positive or COVID free. It is the most common test in Hong Kong, the one in which deep throat or nasal swabs are taken, dipped in nucleic acid and then analysed in a lab for the presence of coronavirus.
This PCR test is on offer at Asia World-Expo for all arrivals in the city at the moment. And before you make a mental note that this is the stab-in-the-brain test – no, it’s not. My 1-year-old took it without a fuss.
A blood test to analyse for the SARS-COV-2 virus and if there are antibodies present, mostly done by private clinics or hospitals to confirm the initial PCR test.
Lastly, the home testing kits are also available (such as the deep throat saliva test by Project Screen by Circle or the finger a prick test available at places like The Life Hub) to know your COVID-status. Unfortunately, these tests aren’t standardised and can have poor accuracy rates.
Hospitals will need a second and often a third test to reconfirm the results of the home kits. But hey, if that itch in the throat is causing you sleepless nights, at least these tests are an easy option.
Antibody COVID-19 Test: What Does A Positive Mean?
Having antibodies means that you’ve already been exposed to this disease and your body remembers the attack like it has left some sort of footprints; it has developed some level of immune response and will recognise the virus if you’re exposed again.
Can You Assume That The Presence Of Antibodies Means Immunity?
That’s the tricky part – right now scientists are using the antibody test to understand how much asymptomatic or mild transmission of the virus has already happened. Since this is a novel virus shrouded in uncertainty, scientists still do not have all the answers about its behaviour.
If you catch the regular flu, you develop immunity against that strain for a good seven to eight months. Sadly, six months into the pandemic we still don’t know much about the SARS-COV-2 virus. If you’re exposed to the virus again, will your body send out the Navy SEALs and fight them hard or succumb to the attack? Research is ongoing but there’s no way of knowing answers to those questions at the moment. It is hoped that most of us will develop long, lasting immunity against this strain of coronavirus at some point in the future, but there’s no confirmation of this yet. After the 2001 SARS attack, nearly 10% of people had immunity against the virus even after six years of getting infected.
What Is The Coronavirus Test Capacity In Hong Kong?
In the wake of the sudden surge in COVID-19 cases, the Centre for Health Protection (CHP) has pumped up its testing capacity and, as of Tuesday, 21 July 2o2o, the government is handling more than 8,000 tests a day. From the start of the pandemic to now, more than 5,25,000 tests have been carried out – pretty impressive, right?
Who Should Get Tested For COVID-19?
It’s a scenario we’re staring at or maybe we will, pretty soon. A nagging pain in the throat, a dry cough, breathlessness, temperature, food doesn’t taste the same, the roses don’t smell sweet. Contact a doctor if you have any symptoms, one of the private clinics which are authorised to conduct COVID-19 tests or the CHP hotline as soon as you can. Reveal your travel history and exact symptoms, then allow them to guide you on the protocol.
But what if you feel you’ve been exposed to the virus but don’t show any clinical symptoms yet? Should you pull up at a designated coronavirus testing centre and head in for a clinical check? The answer is in a bit of a grey zone. Experts are still just beginning to grasp all the nuances of asymptomatic transmission. A recent review of 16 different scientific studies in the medical journal, Annals of Internal Medicine, found that a whopping 40 to 45% of all COVID-19 infections were asymptomatic. In that scenario, everyone who wants a test should get a test. Right? Not necessarily.
The recent swell in positive figures means the Hong Kong public and private health authorities are already overwhelmed; queuing up at a doctor or a testing centre just for “peace of mind” can bring the system under more duress. Hong Kong still has clusters of infections – East Kowloon, Tuen Mun Eye Centre, to name a couple. Community spread in the whole city hasn’t happened yet. So, if you aren’t exhibiting the known symptoms, have followed the government guidelines, masked up, maintained social distancing and hygiene, stay holed up at home, step out only for essentials and are not showing any symptoms – you should be fine. Don’t unnecessarily panic and strain yourself or the system, you might just take away a test from someone actually in need.
However, if there is a positive case on your apartment floor or you shared office space with someone who has been diagnosed, call up the government hotline and alert the health authorities. Symptoms or not, this is when you should be tested. In most instances, the CHP arranges for a specimen bottle to be dropped at your residence, you spit your early morning deep-throat saliva in it and arrange for a drop-off to the designated laboratory. If you find yourself in this scenario, for the love of Hong Kong, please do not step outside your premises till the results come back, usually within 24 to 48-hours. Travel is another situation where you might need a mandatory test. If you have to go to the Mainland and plan to enter through the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge or the Shenzhen Bay Port, you need a COVID-19 negative certificate issued within 72 hours of arrival.
Whilst public hospitals conduct coronavirus tests for those who show symptoms or are close contacts of positive patients, they do not issue a negative-certificate. For this purpose, you have to queue up at one of the recognised private hospitals or laboratories authorized to conduct the PCR test.
Read more: Where To Donate Blood In Hong Kong
Where To Get A COVID-19 Test In Hong Kong: Public Hospitals
The 43 public hospitals of Hong Kong are doing a phenomenal job of coronavirus testing round the clock, but even if you have symptoms you need a referral letter from a doctor to plug in for a test over here. You will need to pay the consultation fee ($180) and then the doctor will determine if you need to have a test based on possible symptoms, travel or exposure history. If you do need to have the test, it’ll be a nasal swab and it will be free of charge. Note that if you are COVID-19 free, they won’t issue a certificate to declare this.
Private Hospitals Offering COVID-19 Tests In Hong Kong
Below are the private hospitals are carrying out the COVID-19 tests in the outpatient departments (offering PCR and/or antibody tests) – note that suspected or high-risk individuals may be referred to a public hospital and if you are deemed a “high risk” patient you may not be able to get your test done here. As there are limited tests per-day, make sure to call the clinic or hospital for an appointment before walking in for a test. Some are running at full capacity and have no openings for about a week.
COVID-19 test package: $2,500
Result time: 48 hours
Information: Prior appointment required, coronavirus tests are done only in the first half of the day
COVID-19 test package: $1,800 (was $2,000)
Result time: Same day if the sample is submitted before 5pm on Monday to Saturday, or before 2pm on Sunday
Information: Prior appointment required, tests are done until 5pm, except Sundays
COVID-19 test package: $1,950
Result time: Next working day
Information: Prior appointment required via the website, tests are done Monday to Saturday
COVID-19 test package: $1,500 and up
Result time: 8 hours
Information: Prior appointment required by calling the booking hotline (5544 9183), tests are done Monday to Saturday, samples dropped off by 2pm will have results by 12pm the next day
COVID-19 test package: $1,500 to $2,000 (with a $450 consultant fee)
Result time: Next working day
Information: Prior appointment required, tests are done Monday to Sunday, and the hospital is only accepting bookings from existing patients
Covid-19 test package: $1,500 to $2,470 (excluding consultant fee)
Result time: Depending on the time the test is taken, results can be given the same day or the next working day
Information: Prior appointment is required as daily tests are limited
COVID-19 test packages: $2,000 to $2,500
Result time: Within 24 hours
Information: Booking is required as they have a limited daily quota on a first-come-first-served basis. It’s only accepting those with a fever, acute respiratory or pneumonia symptoms, or those who might be asymptomatic but are suspected of infection.
Hong Kong Baptist Hospital (testing currently suspended)
COVID-19 test package: $1,820
Result time: 24 to 48 hours
Information: Prior appointment required, tests are done Monday to Saturday
Private Clinics Offering COVID-19 Tests In Hong Kong
COVID-19 test package: $2,400 ($1,500 for the test and $900 consultation fee)
Result time: 2 working days
Information: Walk-in appointments not available but you can book an initial phone consultation prior to the test (payment in advance)
COVID-19 test package: Saliva test (no certificate) $880, with certificate $1,580; Rapid self-test $280 (finger prick for antibodies)
Result time: Saliva test: 2 working days; Rapid self-test: 15 minutes
Information: Can pick up coronavirus tests directly at the clinic (not to test in the clinic) or deliver to your door, Monday to Friday
COVID-19 test package: $2,800
Result time: 2 working days
Information: You’ll get two phone consultations (one prior and post the test), the test can be collected and dropped off at the clinic or a GoGo Van service can be arranged for an additional charge. You’ll get an email of the test report and a doctors certificate on request included in the fee
COVID-19 test package: $2,470 (includes consultaion fees)
Result time: 24 to 48 hours
Information: If you have any symptoms or have been in contact with someone then consultations will be by telephone. For no symptoms, and if the test is for travel purposes then you can have an appointment at the clinic
COVID-19 test package: $2,600 (PCR test); $1,840 (blood antibody test) prices include consultant fees
Result time: PCR, 2 to 3 working days; Blood test, 24 hours
Information: Contact the clinic to book, you can get a letter from your doctor with the coronavirus test results should you need it
COVID-19 test package: $950 to $1,250
Result time: 2 to 3 working days
Information: Suitable for those who are asymptomatic but at risk
COVID-19 test package: $950 to $1,600
Result time: 1 to 4 working days
Information: Online bookings only, test kits will be sent directly to you with delivery possibly up to 11:30pm due to high demand
COVID-19 test package: $1,990
Result time: 2 to 3 working days
Information: Send your information to the team via WhatsApp and then you’ll have a phone consultation with a doctor, the coronavirus test will then be delivered to your door and collected via a driver who’ll take them directly to the lab. You will receive an email with the results from the doctor