Hong Kong’s Chief Executive John Lee has warned that using a Covid-19 vaccination exemption certificate that has been falsely obtained is a serious offence, after the arrest of a private doctor who allegedly issued over 6,000 such certificates in August.

John Lee Exco Presser
Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee meets the press on Tuesday. Photo: Lea Mok/HKFP.

Speaking to the press on Tuesday morning before the Executive Council resumed its regular weekly meetings after a two-month break for summer, Lee said both using and issuing “false documents” were serious offences.

“The person who issued them has committed a severe crime, as have the people who used them,” Lee said, adding that “the maximum sentence can be 14 years in jail.”

The city’s leader also said the authorities would refer any cases of suspected professional misconduct to the Medical Council of Hong Kong to stringently follow up on the matter and hold the medical practitioner in question responsible.

Lee’s comments came after the arrest of Annie Choi, a 64-year-old private doctor, on Monday on suspicion of producing false documents.

Chief Inspector Tai Yuk-lun of the Yuen Long Division of the police said in a press briefing after the arrest that they suspected Choi had issued vaccine exemptions to patients without consulting their medical conditions or referring to the relevant instructions set out by the Department of Health to reach a diagnosis.

Annie Choi clinic
The private clinic of Annie Choi. File photo: Google Maps Street View.

Tai added that Choi had given out vaccine exemption proofs to more than 6,000 patients last month. Each certificate was valid for 90 days and cost the patient HK$500.

The police searched Choi’s clinic on Castle Peak Road in Yuen Long with a warrant on Monday afternoon and collected “a large amount of evidence such as documents and computer records,” Tai said.

“Anyone who avoids vaccination via illegal means has a serious impact on public health and safety,” the officer added.

First reported by state-backed paper

The clinic in question was brought into the spotlight after state-backed newspaper Wen Wei Po’s featured it on its front page on Sunday.

Vaccine pass shopping mall Pacific Place
A sign in a shopping mall telling visitors to wear a mask, use the vaccine pass and scan the LeaveHomeSafe Covid-19 contact-tracing app. File photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

According to the paper, more than 200 people had been queuing in front of Choi’s clinic when Wen Wei Po reporters visited at 6 a.m. on Saturday. A person leaving the clinic told the paper that the doctor would “automatically” issue a vaccine exemption certificate if provided with a “random” reason.

The paper also reported that Choi had supported the 2014 Umbrella Movement and was a “die-hard” supporter of pro-democracy group People Power.

A day after the report was published, Choi put up a notice at the clinic and announced that it would halt operations for a week.

“Wen Wei Po’s attack did not scare me, but my nurses were afraid and no one dared to come to work. I, of course, cannot be in business,” the notice read.

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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.