Hong Kong will implement real-name registration for the contact-tracing LeaveHomeSafe app and China-style health codes to “identify” those infected or undergoing quarantine, the new health chief Lo Chung-mau said on Monday.

Lo also announced that, starting Friday, those undergoing home isolation due to being infected will be required to wear an electronic bracelet to ensure they will not leave their home.

Lo Chung-mau
Lo Chung-mau. File photo: Supplied.

Speaking at the routine Covid-19 briefing on Monday afternoon, Lo told reporters that the purpose of requiring users to register their real names on LeaveHomeSafe was to “identify confirmed cases and people required to undergo quarantine,” and “not to track them.”

“It will not restrict the freedom of most people, who are neither infected nor required to isolate themselves either,” Lo said.

China-style health code

The app will also be updated to introduce a health code system similar to what is used to in mainland China.

According to Lo, those who return positive results in nucleic acid tests will receive a red code. They will be barred from entering a list of premises, including “high-risk” places such as hospitals and nursing homes.

In addition, all arriving travellers will get a yellow code. Lo repeated his earlier statement that the government is considering whether part of the current seven-day hotel quarantine requirement – which has been widely criticised by lawmakers and the public alike – can be changed to self-monitoring at home instead.

StayHomeSafe wristbands
The government had issued various wristbands for monitoring people under quarantine. File photo: GovHK.

Lo said the real-name registration requirement and health code system will be introduced to the LeaveHomeSafe app “as soon as possible,” but did not give a date.

He also did not explain what the red and yellow codes would entail specifically in terms of access to venues.

When asked by a reporter why electronic bracelets would not suffice, Lo said the wristbands can be removed by wearers and the red codes will serve as “an extra line of defence.”

Reporters also questioned why Lo thought the health code system would work in Hong Kong when it was unsuccessful in preventing Omicron outbreaks in Macau or Shanghai.

Lo answered that the proposal was based on the city’s existing Covid-19 situation: “By reducing the chance of them getting into the community, we would be able to reduce the transmission from our current level,” he added.

No red code ‘for no reason’

On RTHK on Monday morning, Lo said the proposed health code system’s objective was to identify those infected as they “should not have the freedom to go anywhere at will and affect others’ health.”

LeaveHomeSafe High Court Covid
A LeaveHomeSafe code outside of High Court. File photo: Peter Lee/HKFP.

The health chief said the authorities would not give out red codes “for no reason,” adding that he hoped citizens would not to be “misled” into thinking that their code would turn arbitrarily turn red or yellow.

Authorities in Henan, China have been accused of exploiting the health code system to suppress protests last month, by turning protesters’ codes red to effectively bar them from public spaces.

However, leading microbiologist Ho Pak-Leung from the University of Hong Kong said in a separate Monday morning programme on Commercial Radio that he expected the effectiveness of the new health code system at preventing Covid-19 infections to be limited given the virus’ transmissibility and the tendency for contact-tracing measures to lag behind the spread.

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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.