Hong Kong residents infected with Covid-19 have been issued with red QR codes through the government’s contact tracing app, as the government launched an “enhanced Vaccine Pass function” on Tuesday.
According to a statement published on Monday night, the red code “will be applicable to all confirmed cases, including persons under home isolation and persons in community isolation facilities.” It will remain in place throughout their isolation period, turning blue once they have recovered from the virus.
Additionally, international arrivals have been issued with an amber code, which will last until they have completed their “medical surveillance.” The amber code was among new measures introduced by Chief Executive John Lee on Monday morning, including cutting the hotel quarantine period to three days.
Travellers entering the city from mainland China or Macau, whose home quarantine period was also reduced to three days, will not receive an amber code or have any restrictions on their movement after the initial isolation period.
Amber code holders can go to work or school, but they cannot visit restaurants, gym, bars or other venues that “actively check” people’s Vaccine Passes. They are also barred from visiting hospitals, elderly care homes and other healthcare premises.
However, the restrictions do not apply if the amber code holders are employees or students of these premises. They are also allowed to enter healthcare facilities if they are seeking medical consultation or treatment.
While in these venues, the government said they must “strictly observe” anti-epidemic measures.
The government announced plans to introduce coloured-codes designed to restrict the movement of residents depending upon their Covid-19 status last month. A similar system was introduced in mainland China in 2020, and concerns have been raised that the codes can be used as a tool to quell protests and dissidents.
In June this year, authorities allegedly blocked disgruntled bank customers from travelling to a protest at Zhengzhou in Henan against the freezing of bank withdrawals by turning their health codes to red.
In July, Lee said that the measures will only be used against the epidemic: “If anyone tries to stir trouble on this aspect, I can tell you that this is not the truth, and the public should not believe it.”
Reducing risk of transmission
Speaking on Commercial Radio on Tuesday morning, Secretary for Health Lo Chung-mau said people with amber codes cannot take off their masks at work.
“Therefore if they are to have meals, they have to eat alone in a place without other people, to reduce the risk of transmission,” Lo said.
When asked how staff in the catering industry were supposed to eat without the presence of others, Lo said he hoped restaurants and their employees could work out an arrangement.
“I believe it would be difficult for us to consider right here [the eating arrangements] in each individual case,” he added.
Premises were urged to update their Vaccine Pass scanner app before Friday and ensure that all devices installed with it had an active internet connection before August 23, the Health Bureau said in its Monday statement.
The upgraded scanner app will be able to distinguish between those who have a red or amber code even if they have not updated their LeaveHomeSafe app or only have the paper version of their Vaccine Pass.
Before that, premises are required to “inspect the Vaccine Pass of users visually as far as feasible” in order to ensure that red or amber code holders do not enter.
After announcing the reduced hotel quarantine period on Monday, arrivals who have spent at least three nights in a designated quarantine hotel have been allowed to return home if they returned a negative result on a polymerase chain reaction test.
This made them the first batch of arrivals released from quarantine hotels under the amber code restrictions.
During Tuesday’s regular Covid-19 briefing, Chuang Shuk-kwan, the head of the Communicable Disease Branch at the Centre for Health Protection, said she did not have the data regarding how many travellers had been released from hotel quarantine early.
Until all premises updated their scanner apps, they might not be able to distinguish whether people were red or amber code holders, Lo said on an RTHK radio show.
The health chief said they would continue to make reviews and improvements, but did not specify how they would fix the loophole.
Hong Kong registered 4,045 new Covid-19 infections on Tuesday, of which 262 were imported. The city has reported a total of 1,389,282 cases and 9,547 related deaths as of Monday.