Hong Kong leader John Lee has said the first stage of the upcoming China-style health code system will only apply to those infected with Covid-19 and incoming travellers, but did not rule out possible expansion in the future.

Meanwhile, the city’s health chief reportedly said that quarantine-free travel could be allowed by November on the condition that arrivals undergo nucleic acid tests and are banned from “high-risk activities.”

A man scanning the LeaveHomeSafe code. File photo: GovHK.

The chief executive was asked whether he would guarantee that the proposed health code system would not be expanded to cover more groups on Wednesday morning, when he met the press after attending the first monthly ante-chamber meeting between top officials and lawmakers.

Lee did not answer directly, saying only that anti-epidemic measures had to be made “according to circumstances.”

Health authorities announced on Monday that they will introduce real-name registration for the contact-tracing LeaveHomeSafe app and China-style health codes to “identify” those infected or undergoing quarantine. The date of implementation is yet to be announced. Red codes will be issued to people infected with Covid-19, while yellow codes will apply to those who have arrived from overseas.

Chief Executive John Lee meets the press on Wednesday. Photo: RTHK, via screenshot.

Lee added that there could be “changes” following the initial implementation of the health code, but did not elaborate.

Conditional quarantine-free travel

The Secretary for Health Lo Chung-mau told the SCMP that the government is currently weighing the prospects of allowing conditional quarantine-free travel by November.

Lo said a cut in hotel quarantine time would be made possible by the introduction of the new health code system, as well as prohibition of “high-risk activities,” such as bar gatherings.

Lo Chung-mau. File photo: Supplied.

“At [the] least PCR testing is needed. But does quarantine have to be confined to a fixed location? … Could it be medical surveillance, plus a yellow code and not appearing in a bar for the first few days? I won’t rule that out,” he said.

The minister said he would still need to review the latest data on the positivity rate of nucleic acid test results among overseas arrivals on the third day of their hotel isolation before deciding how to modify the quarantine requirements.

According to Lo, the relaxation of quarantine rules could come before a summit of global bankers scheduled on November 1 and 2.

When asked at the same press meeting on Wednesday if the government already had a schedule for relaxing travel rules, Chief Executive John Lee said the arrangements would depend on the Covid-19 situation and that the target was to “minimise the number of people affected by restrictions.”

Expert advisory board expands

The Chief Executive’s Office announced on Wednesday that the Covid-19 Expert Advisory Panel, which guides the government on its pandemic strategy, has been expanded to six members.

Ivan Hung and Lau Chak-sing from the University of Hong Kong (HKU)’s medical department, as well as paediatric expert Lau Yu-lung, were newly appointed to the panel.

The team originally consisted of David Hui from the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and HKU’s Yuen Kwok-yung and Gabriel Leung.

“The Government upholds the principle of making targeted anti-epidemic efforts on a scientific basis, and the six experts have all along made valuable contributions to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region in combating… Covid-19,” Lee said in the statement.

As of Tuesday, Hong Kong has registered a total of 1,276,686 Covid-19 cases and 9,420 related 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.