Hongkongers will soon have to use the government’s Covid-19 contact-tracing app when entering all government premises, including public libraries, swimming pools, markets and courts.

Starting in November, it will be mandatory to use the LeaveHomeSafe app to register such visits. People aged under 12 or over 65 and those with disabilities will be exempt if they choose.

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

Exempt groups may continue to sign in using paper slips, but will be asked to enter the first four digits or letters of their Hong Kong identification cards, in addition to their names, phone numbers, and time of visit. They will also be asked to verify details by displaying ID cards and receiving a phone call on the spot.

When the app was introduced last November the government said its use would be voluntary, although officials also said it may be made mandatory “if necessary.” Some restaurants have made the app mandatory for customers in order to benefit from eased social distancing restrictions.

Some Hongkongers and businesses with qualms about possible privacy issues shunned the app, but the authorities said personal data is only stored on users’ phones.

No exemption for the poor

The new rules will create a “major difficulty” for some under-privileged people – especially the homeless – the Society for Community Organisation’s Sit Kam-ping told an RTHK radio programme on Friday, as only a fraction of them have smartphones. “The homeless individuals we encounter typically do not have phones, as by sleeping in parks they easily lose their personal belongings or have their phones and ID cards stolen,” Sit said.

File Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Hong Kong has not been hard hit by the pandemic. It went 51 days with zero local infections until October 8, when an airport cargo terminal worker tested positive. The city of 7.4 million has recorded 12,312 Covid-19 cases since the start of the pandemic and 213 deaths.

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Selina Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist who previously worked with HK01, Quartz and AFP Beijing. She also covered the Umbrella Movement for AP and reported for a newspaper in France. Selina has studied investigative reporting at the Columbia Journalism School.