The Census and Statistics Department has confirmed that a charger given to census officers for this year’s by-census caught fire on Monday. The department said it told officers to stop using the Chinese-made charger after the incident and for residents not to worry when doing their census interviews.

The 5,000-odd census officers were given the chargers to recharge the tablets they use to conduct the by-census, which takes place between June 30 and August 2.

A photo spread through the internet claiming that an external battery charger given to officers “exploded.” The department said a charger caught on fire and a small amount of fragments were ejected at a fieldwork centre in Sha Tin on Monday night. No one was injured, it said.

Photo: HKGolden.

The photo was posted to the popular forum HKGolden on Tuesday; the uploader questioned whether thousands of census officers go out “carrying bombs every day”.

Census officers started visiting households to complete questionnaires last Saturday. The department said it has only received one report of a faulty charger since.

The charger is model MK813D under a brand called MOKO, according to the department. The authority said it bought the chargers according to the procedure stipulated in the Stores and Procurement Regulations, and that it was in accordance with the safety requirements set by the government.

Around 5,000 of the chargers were obtained for the by-census. The department said it has suspended the use of the charger for the safety of census officers. The officers will no longer carry the charger for fieldwork, it added.

Census officers. Photo: GovHK.

The goal of the by-census, conducted once every ten years, is to obtain up-to-date benchmark information on the socio-economic characteristics of the population and on its geographical distribution.

It will compile information on about one-tenth of the households in Hong Kong – around 300,000 residential units.

Respondents from the sampled units were able to complete the questionnaires online or through a mobile app beginning June 30. Census officers started to visit households that have not yet completed their questionnaires last Saturday with the tablets, the chargers, and other apparatuses.

The tablets used were a Chinese brand called Fei Yun. Some commented in the forum that the tablet often gets very hot, its battery drains quickly, and that one-third of the tablet’s battery is consumed in an hour.

The commentators added that the tablets often encountered errors and could not connect to the by-census servers.

A non-recurrent cost of HK$88.8 million was allocated to acquiring computer equipment and services for the by-census.

Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.