Law enforcement may carry out spot checks on people’s vaccination records in malls, department stores, supermarkets and wet markets once the “vaccine pass” is implemented, according to a Hong Kong official. However, unvaccinated people who must access malls to go home or go to work will not be treated as violating the rules.

Meanwhile, a university study has estimated that around 250,000 Hongkongers will be infected in the city’s fifth wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, with case numbers not reaching their peak until late February or March.

A citizen scans the contact-tracing LeaveHomeSafe code in a wetmarket. File photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

New “vaccine pass” measures announced on Tuesday will come into effect on February 24. Permanent Secretary for Food and Health Thomas Chan said on Commercial Radio on Wednesday morning that law enforcement may conduct spot checks at malls, supermarkets, wet markets and department stores.

According to Chan, there will be two ways of implementing the vaccine pass – one requires citizens to present their LeaveHomeSafe contact-tracing app and vaccination records upon entry for staff to scan with an official app. This applies to “high risk premises” such as restaurants and gyms.

For places with high traffic, such as malls and supermarkets, Chan said visitors would have to scan the LeaveHomeSafe code, but they would not have to proactively present their apps. However, law enforcement may conduct ambush-style checks, and those who fail to provide valid vaccination proof will be subject to a fixed HK$5,000 fine.

(From left) Head of the Communicable Disease Branch of the Centre for Health Protection of the Department of Health Chuang Shuk-kwan, the Director of Health Ronald Lam, Permanent Secretary for Food and Health (Health) Thomas Chan, and the Chief Manager (Integrated Clinical Services) of the Hospital Authority Larry Lee meeting the press on February 8, 2022. Photo: GovHK.

Chan said if it was a “necessity” for those without a Covid-19 vaccination to pass through a mall to return home or go to work, and there was no practical alternative route, that would constitute a “reasonable excuse” and they would not be treated as breaching the rules.

Fifth wave could infect 250,000 people

A research team led by Sean Yuan, an assistant professor at the Department of Biomedical Sciences in the City University of Hong Kong, has forecast that 250,000 people in Hong Kong could be infected with Covid-19 during the current fifth wave.

Working with teams at the Sungkyunkwan University in Seoul and Imperial College London, Yuan and his team developed a mathematic model to evaluate the ease with which different age groups can contract Covid-19, according to social contact statistics. They predicted that quarter of a million people could catch the virus if social contact was reduced by 25 per cent, compared to the levels seen during the Christmas and New Year holidays.

Government implementing lockdown and compulsory testing in Tai Po on February 8. Photo: GovHK.

Yuan said the peak for the city’s fifth wave of pandemic is expected to arrive at the end of February or in March, and the case numbers will only gradually drop when the coverage of the third jab has reached a certain level.

Over 1,100 cases reported

Local media reported that more than 1,100 positive cases were expected on Wednesday, and the number of preliminary positive cases was expected to exceed 800.

On Tuesday, respiratory disease expert David Hui told Ming Pao that the number of cases could surpass the 1,000 threshold on Thursday and reach 1,500 between Saturday and Monday, citing internal estimated by the Hospital Authority.

Long lines for Covid-19 testing at MacPherson stadium, Mong Kok on Tuesday. Photo: Supplied.

Hui said the effectiveness of the tightened social distancing measures could only be evaluated after observing the case numbers and number of untraceable cases in 14 days. If the statistics do not go down, the next step would be for the government to consider implementing the vaccine pass on public transports and at outdoor premises, including parks and beaches.

Unannounced closure of testing centre

A test centre in Sheung Shui suddenly halted operations on Wednesday, according to a statement by Edward Lau, a lawmaker from the pro-Beijing party Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong.

Lau said the service provider at the test station in Po Wing Road Sports Centre had received a notice from the government requesting it to move staff to assist with testing in other districts.

The lawmaker said he was “discontent with the Food and Health Bureau’s rushed decision with zero notice,” and questioned the Covid-19 testing capacity in the city.

Hong Kong has recorded a total of 16,647 Covid-19 cases since the start of the pandemic and 213 deaths.

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Peter Lee

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.