More than 82,900 people applied to register for Hong Kong’s new Covid-19 Health Code on the first morning of its rollout on Friday as the government stepped up efforts to reopen the border with mainland China and Macau.

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

The system, designed to open up quarantine-free travel, requires applicants to provide their full name, Hong Kong identity card number and date of issue, a contact number, home address and proof of that address.

The data will be shared with the Chinese and Macau governments for conversion to their respective health codes.

Quarantine-free travel to the mainland will initially be restricted to neighbouring Guangdong province. Media reports say it could begin as soon as this month.

Personal data “may be disclosed to law enforcement agencies” with users’ consent or “where disclosure is authorised or required by law,” according to Hong Kong’s health department.

After successful registration, users who want to receive a health code are asked to upload their access records from the past 31 days from their LeaveHomeSafe app, a Hong Kong government contact-tracing app which records venues visited but not personal details of users.

The Health Code system will then examine whether the applicant’s residential address or access record overlap with those of confirmed Covid-19 cases or their close contacts.

Those with a clear record for at least 21 consecutive days will receive a “green code” allowing them to visit the mainland or Macau.

No exemption for elderly

The elderly are exempted from the compulsory use of LeaveHomeSafe but will still need a Hong Kong Health Code to visit the mainland or Macau.

Legislative Council Leave Home Safe Covid-19
A notice inside the Legislative Council asking visitors to scan the “Leave Home Safe” app. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

“When you go to the mainland, you have to cleverly use a smartphone to have a normal life, ” Alfred Sit, the head of the city’s Innovation and Technology Bureau,Sit told HK01.

He said the government was still discussing with mainland authorities whether children could be exempted from using the Health Code.

The Hong Kong government has some of the world’s toughest quarantine requirements but has prioritised the reopening of the mainland border over opening up to the outside world.

A survey by the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute commissioned by HKFP found that 50 per cent of respondents also prioritised resuming travel to mainland China over international destinations.

Hong Kong has escaped Covid lightly compared to most countries, with 12,482 cases and 213 deaths. But like mainland China it is committed to a zero Covid policy.

The Centre for Health Protection has confirmed that a person who arrived from the US was infected with the Omicron variant, making a total of five such cases in Hong Kong.

The Food and Health Bureau announced that non-Hong Kong residents from Estonia and Uganda will be barred from entry from December 12 as Omicron cases were detected in the two countries.

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Peter Lee is a reporter for HKFP. He was previously a freelance journalist at Initium, covering political and court news. He holds a Global Communication bachelor degree from CUHK.