Citywide COVID Testing in Macau After First Confirmed Delta Case
And a first-hand story of the incident
But obviously, it hasn’t.
The Delta variant became active around the world early this year. Cases in China started to appear in June. And my hometown, Macau was on high alert. Because about 80,000 people — working in Macau but living in China — are crossing the border every day.
And last week (on August 3rd, 2021), the inevitable happened.
The first case of Delta was confirmed in Macau. Even after a 491-day record of having no infections, most people in Macau were not shocked by the news. Because we knew it was just a matter of when and not if.
The next day (August 4th), the government launched our first universal Covid-19 testing scheme. We were impressed by the government’s swift responses.
But still, what happened in the next couple of days was nothing less than a Hollywood disaster movie.
The first day of chaos
The plan was to test over 680,000 people in three days. With 41 test centers opening for 24 hours each day, the government was confident the plan would work with minimal issues.
The hardware setup of the test centers was in fact quite impressive. There were centers located in the public arenas managed by the government. But there were also centers in private schools and even casinos. All centers were opened for testing within hours after the government announcement.
But unfortunately, aside from the hardware setup, everything else was a disaster.
First, the online tests reservation system crashed. People had no way to schedule their tests. So they all hurried to the nearest center and started lining up for the tests. Second, there were not enough medical staff at the centers to actually perform the tests.
The result was, more and more people were queuing up at the centers waiting for tests. And they had to wait for over 5 hours on average — mostly on the street — because the center inside was already packed with people.
My elderly parents went to a test center in the mid-afternoon. Hoping to beat the rush hours after work. They were standing in the rain (with an umbrella) on the street for over 2 hours. But they were considered to be lucky by many others.
Some of my friends with little kids couldn’t afford to wait on the street for hours. So they drove around various centers to see which one had the shortest queue. And my younger friends thought the line should be shorter when most people had gone to bed. So they went around midnight but still ended up waiting for almost 3 hours.
The second day of surprise
I was planning to go on the first day. But I was lucky that I changed my mind.
I went to my test center on the second day in the mid-morning. I was planning to wait there all the way to the afternoon. Able to make it to lunch would be a bonus in my plan. People went on the first day suggested bringing foldable chairs to the test center for waiting.
And to be honest, I almost brought one when I left my apartment.
When I arrived at the test center, it was raining. I saw people were already queueing up at the entrance. But to my surprise, only about ten people were waiting there. I spent about 5 minutes standing outside and then I was able to go inside the center.
The old lady behind me in the queue was overjoyed. She told me her son’s family of three had to wait for 6 hours on the first day. They had to take turns to leave the queue for rest and meals. Because they couldn't afford to lose their positions in the queue.
Once inside the center, I still had to wait for another 20 minutes before taking my test. But it definitely felt shorter than that. Because the condition inside was so much better than waiting outside in the rain.
I was in and out of the test center for about 30 minutes in total. When I left the center, it was an incredible sense of relief.
Watching the evening news that night, I learned that no more lines were waiting at all test centers. Because the online reservation system was fixed. And 300 medical staff from China were sent to help at the test centers.
The third day of peace and beyond
And on the third day, everything went smoothly as expected. In fact, the government announced the testing scheme was completed ahead of schedule. Most people were tested way before the end of the third day.
Just like the ending of all Hollywood disaster movies — we are all safe and sound at the end.
Right now, the government is shifting its focus to urge people to get vaccinated. Never let a good crisis go to waste, as the saying goes. Looking around the world, it is not easy to persuade people to get vaccinated.
And Macau is no exception.
My parents have been considering it for months. And thanks to the local cases of Delta, they have finally decided to get vaccinated this week. But some of my younger family members are still in the considering phase.
Schools are going to open next month. And students will be vaccinated in schools when the new semester starts. Hopefully, this can help encourage the adults (teachers, parents, etc.) around the students to also get vaccinated.
After all, there is no denying that we have to learn how to coexist with Covid-19 for the months — or even years — to come.