Seven health officials have arrived in Hong Kong from mainland China, the first members of a 60-person team that will carry out Covid-19 testing.
This is the first time Chinese health officials have assisted in Hong Kong and comes as Hong Kong sees a sharp rise in new infections.
But some local councillors raised concerns that China may be collecting DNA samples for surveillance purposes, said Reuters.
Hong Kong’s government has denied this.
Tensions are high between pro-democracy groups in Hong Kong and the Chinese government after Beijing imposed a new national security law in Hong Kong in June which critics say erodes freedoms.
The broad-sweeping law, which was widely criticised internationally, allows for life in prison for those China determines to have engaged in acts of secession, subversion and collusion with foreign forces.
Members of the health team are mostly from public hospitals in southern Guangdong Province, according to Chinese state media the Global Times, and will help with mass testing in the region.
The Global Times said the team was established at the request of the Hong Kong government, at a time where medical resources in Hong Kong are said to be overstretched.
The city reported 115 new cases on Sunday, continuing a streak of infections in the triple digits, and bringing the city’s total tally to 3,511.
The overall numbers are still lower than those of many other places – but the spike comes after Hong Kong appeared to have contained the outbreak, with weeks of few or no local infections.
It’s now experiencing what’s been described as a “third wave” of infections.
Earlier last week, Hong Kong postponed its parliamentary elections, originally due to be held in September, by a year.
The government said it was a necessary move amid the rise in infections but the opposition has accused it of using Covid-19 as a pretext to stop people from voting.
Operating with ‘impunity’
Beijing introduced the security law at the end of June despite facing global criticism, creating new offences which could see Hong Kong residents sent to mainland China for trial.
It introduces new crimes with severe penalties – up to life in prison – and allows mainland security personnel to legally operate in Hong Kong with impunity.
The law applies not only to residents of the region, but also to non-permanent residents and even those who live outside Hong Kong.
Hong Kong’s government says the law was required to bring order to a city that saw mass pro-democracy protests last year which often turned violent.
But critics feared that it would be used instead to target pro-democracy protesters.
Last week, these fears came true when Hong Kong police announced that they were seeking the arrest of six pro-democracy activists, some of whom had participated in previous protests. They are now living in exile in Western countries.
Hong Kong- a former British colony – was awarded certain freedoms when it was handed over to China in 1997.
Under a 50-year agreement, China enshrined civil liberties – including the right to protest, freedom of speech and the independence of the judiciary – in Hong Kong’s Basic Law, an approach which came to be known as “one country, two systems”.
But critics say these freedoms have been eroded with the implementation of this new law.