The Hong Kong government is looking into extending the mandatory use of its Covid-19 contact-tracing app, including at all restaurants and other premises, the city’s health minister has said.

Sophia Chan
Hong Kong’s Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan. File Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Officials from the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department have met with restaurant owners and others in the industry over the use of the LeaveHomeSafe app, the Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan said on Sunday.

The government is also “exploring the feasibility at other premises as well,” Chan said, without elaborating on where.

Hongkongers have been required to use the app when entering government premises, including libraries and wet markets, since last Monday. Critics said the new rule caused major inconvenience to those who do not own – or do not know how to operate – smart phones. Those aged 65 and over and 12 and under, as well as those with disabilities, are currently exempted from having to use the app to access government buildings, but must leave their details.

Currently only category C and D restaurants – which allow tables of 6 to 12 and are allowed to stay open as late as 2 a.m. – require customers to sign in using the app. People visiting category A restaurants – which allow tables of two and close at 6 p.m. – are not required to register their visits, while patrons of category B restaurants, allowing tables of four and closing at 10 p.m., may sign in using a paper form instead of the app.

white separators restaurants coronavirus covid masks
Separators are used as precautionary measure against the spread of Covid-19. File Photo: May James/HKFP.

Hongkongers planning on travelling to the mainland will also be required to register their identity and address before being allowed to cross the border, Chan said.

Following a “constructive” discussion between Hong Kong and mainland health authorities during a video conference last Tuesday to specify details of the resumption of quarantine-free cross-border travel, Chan said that mainland health experts might also visit the city to observe its anti-epidemic measures.

Health code for travellers

Mainland citizens are currently required to use a “health code” app to generate a QR code that grants them access to premises and regions depending on their level of Covid-19 risk, which is associated with their health and travel history. A green QR code indicates that they are low risk and can access more locations than those whose code is red, meaning that they had been recently exposed to carriers of the coronavirus or had been in higher risk zones.

The head of the Hong Kong Medical Association’s infectious disease committee Joseph Tsang, said on RTHK on Monday that receiving a third dose of a Covid-19 vaccine might be “one of the possible considerations” for mainland authorities in deciding whether the city can open up to mainland China.

Joseph Tsang speaking on RTHK Monday morning.
Joseph Tsang speaking on RTHK Monday morning. Photo: RTHK Screenshot.

“Those planning to travel to the mainland as soon as it opens up should consider taking the third jab to facilitate their upcoming travels,” Tsang said.

On November 5, Hong Kong recorded its first imported case of the “Delta plus” strain – the sub-lineage AY.4.2 variant. The 46-year-old patient arrived from the UK, considered a high-risk country, and tested positive for the virus while in quarantine.

The new variant is about 10 to 15 per cent more transmissible than the original Delta strain, Tsang said, although there is no evidence to suggest that it causes more serious symptoms in those infected. The government should keep “closer observation” of the strain’s spread, he said.

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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.