A nurse and a clinic manager have been arrested for allegedly issuing fraudulent Covid-19 vaccine exemption certificates.
Police launched a sting operation against a doctor after investigating reports alleging that a clinic had issued vaccine exemptions to patients without a medical consultation or reviewing their medical records.
On Wednesday, they detained a nurse at a Kwun Tong clinic and a manager on suspicion of conspiring to produce false documents.
“The vaccine pass is a very important anti-epidemic measure… the goal is to encourage more people to get vaccinated,” Assistant Divisional Commander of Police Tsang Chun-kit said on Thursday said at a press briefing. The suspects posed “enormous threat to public health,” he added.
Under the vaccine pass scheme that rolled out in February, residents aged 12 or over will be barred from entering 23 types of premises unless they can present valid proof of at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine. These premises include restaurants, malls, supermarkets and wet markets. People holding exemption certificates issued by doctors for medical reasons, however, will be exempt.
In their sting operation, undercover officers approached a doctor surnamed Chan through a chat app, “clearly stating that they had no medical problems, but only wished to obtain a vaccine exemption certificate,” according to Senior Inspector of Police So Tsz-yuen.
The officer posing as a patient was told to collect the certificate at a Kwun Tong clinic, but they found that the doctor was absent at the time of collection. They were given an exemption certificate printed with the doctor’s name and signature after paying a fee, without consulting the doctor or having their medical records reviewed, police said.
Police found around 30 similar exemption certificates with chops bearing a doctor’s signature and payment records at the clinic during a raid authorised by a court warrant. The records showed “several hundred similar exemption certificates” were issued by the clinic since February, So said.
The clinic’s doctor was believed to have left Hong Kong last June and would not be able to sign the certificates, police said. The force will refer the case to the Medical Council for a possible misconduct investigation, Tsang said.
The Department of Health issued guidelines to doctors to help them decide whether their patients would qualify for an exemption. They included a list of specific conditions.
The Society for Community Organisation’s Pang Hung-cheong said during a Thursday RTHK radio programme that, although recovered Covid patients are exempt from the vaccine pass in the first six months after their recovery, the government guidelines do not currently include prior coronavirus infection as one of the reasons for exemption. This may be confusing for some members of the public, he said. They would also need to pay out of pocket to see a private doctor in order to obtain the exemption, he added.
How Covid-19 patients can prove their vaccine-exemption status is “currently unclear,” Pang said. He said that one option may be to allow the use of isolation orders, which are issued to people who tested positive for the coronavirus, as a substitute for exemption certificates.
Hong Kong has recorded a total of 996,862 Covid-19 cases since the start of the pandemic and 5,136 deaths as of Thursday.