Hong Kong on Thursday formally launched a new health code scheme which will log full details of users in an attempt to persuade mainland China to restore quarantine-free travel, but stressed that people not planning to cross the border would not have to install it.

Applications for the “Hong Kong Health Code” will begin on December 10, the government announced.

In contrast to Hong Kong’s current LeaveHomeSafe app, users will have to provide personal details including their full name, identity document number and date of issue, phone number, and address. They will also be asked to upload their travel history for the past 21 days using LeaveHomeSafe.

Hong Kong Health Code
Hong Kong Health Code. Photo: GovHK.

The health code will be in one of three colours, red, yellow, or green, and each colour represents a different status.

  • Red: Confirmed Covid-19 patients, probable patients, close contacts, and confirmed patients who were discharged from a hospital less than 14 days ago;
  • Yellow: Those who have lived in or visited a high-risk location in the past 21 days, and people who arrived in Hong Kong less than 21 days ago;
  • Green: Those with a green code will be allowed to cross the border without quarantine in future, but will first have to convert their Hong Kong health code to the mainland or Macau versions.

Secretary for Innovation and Technology Alfred Sit told a press conference the government would arrange for outreach teams to help people apply for the health code.

“Apart from helping people in the community with outreach teams, we are also proactively contacting the telecommunication industry and charities to study [the possibility of] giving smartphones and data SIM cards to those in need,” said Sit.

Sit said the government would hand out plastic covers printed with braille to premises displaying the LeaveHomeSafe QR code, so visually impaired people would know where to scan the code.

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

When asked if users of LeaveHomeSafe would also be required in future to register their names, Sit said there was “no need at this stage.”

“However, if you’re asking whether further in the future there will be some updates, I’m reserving arrangements that move with the times,” said Sit.

‘Hidden concerns’

Hong Kong authorities say reopening the border with the mainland is a priority, taking precedence over reopening the city to international travel.

Kelvin Sin, spokesperson on technology policy for the Democratic Party, said the failure to rule out a real-name registration for LeaveHomeSafe “raises hidden concerns of the application obtaining personal information.”

Leave Home Safe wet market
Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Sin said he was concerned that with the emergence of the Omicron variant the government would “again use the excuse of ‘combating the pandemic'” to expand the use of LeaveHomeSafe.

He urged it to retract the blanket decision to require the use of LeaveHomeSafe in restaurants, in order to protect the rights of restaurant owners and citizens.

Hong Kong reported another Covid-19 case with the Omicron mutant strain on Wednesday, making a total of four cases since last week. The city recorded six Covid-19 infections on Thursday, making a total of 12,446 cases and 213 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.

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Candice is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously worked as a researcher at a local think tank. She has a BSocSc in Politics and International Relations from the University of Manchester and a MSc in International Political Economy from London School of Economics.