Macau prepares for possible mass NAT drive: health chief

2021-06-08 03:47     Comment:0

NAT cert for Macau-Guangdong travel valid for 48 hours only

Addressing yesterday’s press conference about Macau’s novel coronavirus situation, Health Bureau (SSM) Director Alvis Lo Iek Long said that Macau was preparing a possible mass nucleic acid testing (NAT) drive for everyone in Macau in case the city – which is facing a COVID-19 threat due to Guangdong’s ongoing novel coronavirus transmission – is hit by new local COVID-19 cases.

Lo also said that the Macau government expected to complete a possible citywide NAT drive within four days at the fastest in case there was an urgent need to test everyone in Macau for COVID-19 in a short period of time due to the city being hard hit by a local COVID-19 epidemic.

Macau’s population stood at 682,500 at the end of first quarter, according to official demographics.

The Macau government’s Novel Coronavirus Response and Coordination Centre announced in a statement yesterday morning that from 10 a.m. today all those travelling between Macau and Guangdong must present an 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 Macau and all other provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities in the mainland remains unchanged at seven days.

Yesterday morning’s statement also said that Macau residents who fail to present a valid NAT certificate when returning to the city from Guangdong must immediately undergo a nucleic acid test and then wait for the NAT result, while non-Macau residents without a valid NAT certificate are barred from entering the city.

The statement said that the Macau 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 Macau.

Addressing yesterday evening’s press conference, Lo underlined that in response to the ongoing COVID-19 transmission in Guangdong, Guangzhou and Foshan in particular, the Macau government has been stepping up its COVID-19 prevention measures over the past few days with the aim of preventing the import of COVID-19 cases into Macau.

The Macau government has imposed 14-day hotel quarantine on those 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. The quarantine requirement for arrivals from the seven districts in the two cities took effect on Sunday.

Lo noted that the Macau government has always been adding certain areas in the mainland to its 14-day quarantine requirement list with reference to the mainland health authorities’ classification of COVID-19 medium-risk and high-risk areas, but, Lo said, the Macau government had always imposed quarantine on arrivals from a particular area whose administrative rank is one level higher than the administrative rank of the respective medium-risk or high risk areas classified by the mainland health authorities (for instance if a community or a village was classified by the mainland as an area affected by COVID-19, Macau imposed quarantine on the respective subdistrict or town), with the aim of ensuring better protection for Macau from COVID-19.

‘Considerably strong’ measure

Now, Lo noted that while Guangzhou has reported no more than 100 new COVID-19 cases, including asymptomatic ones, in this wave of COVID-19 transmissions since last month when the first new local case was detected, the Macau government has implemented a “considerably strong” measure by imposing quarantine on arrivals from five entire districts in Guangzhou, which has 11 districts in total. Similarly, the Macau government has imposed quarantine on arrivals from two entire districts in Foshan, which has five districts in total, Lo noted.

In addition, Lo noted that the Health Bureau had required all those in Macau who had been in Guangzhou or Foshan within the past 14 days to undergo a one-off nucleic acid test before 6 p.m. yesterday.

Lo underlined that the Macau government will step up its COVID-19 prevention measures in response to the latest development of Guangdong’s COVID-19 epidemic situation. Lo noted that even Zhongshan – which has so far not reported any new local COVID-19 cases in this COVID-19 wave – has launched a citywide NAT drive for all residents there. Now the Macau government, Lo said, does not rule out the possibility of launching a citywide NAT drive for everyone here, in case the city confirms new local COVID-19 cases, adding that the preparations for a possible mass NAT drive are underway.

Lo urged residents to be inoculated against COVID-19 as soon as possible, considering that right now Macau is not being affected by a local COVID-19 transmission.

‘Cherish & grasp’ chance for jabs

Lo noted that while the Health Bureau has been constantly adding new COVID-19 inoculation facilities and raising its vaccination capability, its human resources for COVID-19 vaccinations are “surely not unlimited”, because of which, Lo said, residents should “cherish and grasp” their chance for COVID-19 jabs right now when there are sufficient medical human resources for inoculations available as Macau is currently not being affected by local COVID-19 cases.

Lo warned that in case Macau is hit by a local COVID-19 transmission, the Health Bureau would need to allocate its human resources to identifying and tracing the possibly “large” number of close contacts – those who have been in close contact with COVID-19 patients, apart from the possibility that the bureau would need to launch a citywide NAT drive. In such a situation, Lo said, the bureau’s COVID-19 vaccinations would “necessarily” have to be suspended.

As of 4 p.m. yesterday, 209,051 doses of COVID-19 vaccine had been administered to 137,338 people in Macau, comprising 64,575 who had received their first jab and 72,763 who had received their second shot.

20 pct vaccination rate

Lo said that Macau’s COVID-19 vaccination rate has “finally” reached the 20-percent benchmark – i.e. about 20 percent of the population has received at least one jab. However, Lo said, the current vaccination rate is still far lower than what is required for Macau to achieve herd immunity.

When asked by the media what specific circumstances would result in a need for Macau to launch a citywide NAT drive, Lo said that there were no absolute quantitative indicators that would activate a mass NAT drive. Instead, Lo said, the Health Bureau would decide whether mass nucleic acid tests are needed by constantly assessing the “dynamic” changes in Macau’s COVID-19 situation. He said that “COVID-19 trends are more important than absolute figures” when assessing whether a citywide NAT drive is needed.

30 sample collection points

Lo underlined that the Health Bureau is building up its NAT capability, including human resources and equipment, with the aim of ensuring that it will be able to launch a citywide NAT drive at the fastest possible rate, if need be. In the bureau’s contingency plans for a mass NAT drive, Lo said, 30 sample collection points would be set up across the city, with the aim of making it more convenient for residents to have their sample collected.

Lo said that in a worst-case scenario when Macau is hard hit by local COVID-19 transmissions, the Health Bureau would urgently need to test everyone in Macau for the novel coronavirus in the shortest possible time, COVID-19 sample collection and testing would be carried out around the clock, in which case the mass nucleic acid tests could be completed within four days, he said.

When replying to media questions, Lo was quick to add that whether the Health Bureau would really need to complete a citywide NAT drive within four days would depend on the latest development of the COVID-19 epidemic situations in Macau and neighbouring cities.

Lo also said that if the Health Bureau 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 Macau’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. Consequently, Lo said, there was a need for the Macau government to prepare for a possible citywide NAT drive.

Meanwhile, Lo said that a total of 5,332 residents and other people in Macau have reported on their Macau Health Code that they have been in Guangzhou or Foshan within the past 14 days. As of 5 p.m. yesterday, about 5,000 of them had had their sample collected for a nucleic acid test, he said, adding that at the time of the press conference no positive NAT result had been reported.

Long queues formed outside the Macau Forum in Zape yesterday with people waiting to undergo nucleic acid testing.

Meanwhile, the Novel Coronavirus Response and Coordination Centre announced yesterday that it will hold three press conferences a week to update the public about the latest COVID-19 developments – Monday, Wednesday and Friday – instead of just every Monday.

Scores of residents, including cross-border students, queue outside the Macau Forum complex in Zape yesterday for their nucleic acid test (NAT). Photo: Iong Tat Choi

Residents and other people who have been in Guangzhou or Foshan within the past 14 days queue outside the nucleic acid testing (NAT) station at the public Conde de São Januário Hospital Centre yesterday for a COVID-19 test. Photo: MPDG

Health Bureau (SSM) Director Alvis Lo Iek Long addresses yesterday’s press conference about the city’s novel coronavirus situation. Photo: GCS

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