Hongkongers should get vaccinated against the coronavirus as soon as possible to speed-up the phasing out of the government’s controversial Covid-19 tracing app, says a rights lawyer.

On Friday, in the wake of a government announcement that it plans to expand the programme to residents aged 16 to 29, human rights lawyer Michael Vidler told HKFP: “The higher the proportion of Hong Kong people who get vaccinated, the harder it becomes for the government to justify the bundling of the ‘LeaveHomeSafe’ surveillance app requirement into the relaxation of anti-Covid measures.”

Restaurant LeaveHomeSafe
A LeaveHomeSafe QR code outside a restaurant. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

The app was introduced for people frequenting the city’s eateries and other venues including gyms in February , triggering privacy concerns among democrats who feared the government could use it to carry out surveillance on members of the public.

Officials say the app does not pose any privacy risks and will not be used for any purpose other than contact-tracing to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

“The ‘LeaveHomeSafe’ mobile app does not require registration for use. The app does not have a tracking function, and venue check-in data will not be uploaded or transferred to the government or any other systems. Such data are saved on users’ mobile phones only,” a spokesperson for the Innovation and Technology Bureau responsible for the app’s development said in February.

Any information recorded on the app is also erased after 31 days, according to the bureau.

Expanded jab programme

On Thursday, the government announced it will expand the city’s vaccination programme to people between the ages of 16 and 29, who will be able to register for a jab from next Friday onwards. Minors will need to provide proof of parental consent and are only eligible for the BioNTech jab.

“Don’t be a party to prolonging Covid-19 controls by delaying vaccination,” Vidler said, adding that Hongkongers should “know which jab is the most effective and based on transparent, peer-reviewed trials and data.”

vaccine Covid-19
Photo: Pixabay.

Concerns have been raised over the efficacy of the Chinese-manufactured Sinovac after Hong Kong authorities approved the vaccine for emergency use after waiving the requirement for its final trial results to be published in peer-reviewed journals.

The director of China’s Centre for Disease Control and Prevention said last weekend that the country was considering mixing different Covid-19 vaccines to boost vaccine efficiency.

Easing social distancing

Chief Executive Carrie Lam said on Monday that restaurants and other premises will be asked to require patrons to use the app and only allow paper contact tracing forms in “exceptional circumstances” as part of her government’s plans to gradually ease social gathering restrictions for people who have been fully vaccinated.

Carrie Lam Leavehome safe
Chief Executive Carrie Lam and Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan using the LeaveHomeSafe app. File photo: Carrie Lam via Facebook.

Around 240 people with preliminary and confirmed positive Covid-19 results have provided their travel records through the app to the Centre of Health Protection since its launch in mid-November, the bureau told the Legislative Council’s Finance Committee on Thursday.

More than 3.73 million people have downloaded the app while 82,000-plus public and private venues have taken part in the scheme as of last Wednesday, according to official government figures.

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Hong Kong Free Press is a new, non-profit, English-language news source seeking to unite critical voices on local and national affairs. Free of charge and completely independent, HKFP arrives amid rising concerns over declining press freedom in Hong Kong and during an important time in the city’s constitutional development.