Hong Kong police have confirmed the arrests of three doctors accused of issuing thousands of fake Covid-19 vaccination exemption certificates, as well as eight people who had allegedly obtained false jab exemptions. They said the investigation would look into the “strange” price difference of the certificates, which cost between HK$350 and around HK$4,000, depending on the doctor.

The arrests were the latest in a crackdown on false vaccination exemption certificates. The private practitioners are suspected of handing them out without conducting medical consultations or following the Department of Health’s guidelines.

Hong Kong Police
Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

A 59-year-old doctor surnamed Wong was said to have issued more than 6,600 certificates at his clinic in Chai Wan between February and June and to have charged around HK$3,000 for each one.

In one particular month, the doctor handed out more than 3,000 certificates, which was “absolutely abnormal,” said Acting Superintendent Lo Yin-lam of the Hong Kong Island Regional Headquarters crime unit (operational).

“Assuming that he doesn’t rest in a month, he has to issue at least 100 certificates in one day,” Lo said.

Police apprehended Wong on Thursday morning on suspicion of conspiracy to defraud and seized documents, receipts, computers and a small amount of cash from his clinic.

A reporter cited Chai Wan residents as saying people were seen waiting in line to obtain the exemption proof in March. Asked why police did not take action back then, Lo said their intelligence showed that the issuance of allegedly false certificates “stopped for a while.”

Covid vaccination exemption arrest
(From left to right) Chief Inspector Lee Ka-wai, Acting Senior Superintendent Cheung Man-chuen and Acting Superintendent Lo Yin-lam. Photo: Hong Kong Police livestream screenshot, via Facebook.

A 51-year-old female doctor and a 62-year-old male doctor were also arrested on Thursday morning. The pair, whose clinics were based in Tin Shui Wai and Yuen Long, respectively, were said to have each issued more than 1,300 certificates between February and September. The certificates, which were valid for 90 days, cost between HK$350 to up to HK$750, police said.

The arrests of the three doctors came soon after police detained a practitioner and his three assistants on Tuesday night on suspicion of handing out false Covid-19 jab exemptions at a clinic in Yau Ma Tei. The clinic allegedly charged around HK$4,000 for a certificate.

Police arrested three men and five women – aged between 35 and 49 – in connection with that case on Thursday, after the group were said to have obtained certificates on the day when undercover officers visited the Yau Ma Tei clinic before detaining the doctor and his staff.

Police revealed that 14 arrests were made between September 7 and 14 after private practitioner Annie Choi, 64, was apprehended on September 5 on suspicion of handing out vaccine exemptions to over 6,000 people without consultations.

covid-19 coronavirus vaccine
Coronavirus vaccination in Hong Kong. Photo: GovHK.

Asked why there was a major difference in how much the clinics charged for an exemption certificate, Acting Senior Superintendent Cheung Man-chuen of the New Territories North Regional Headquarters said it would be one of the directions of the ongoing investigation.

“The cases have similar case details but the fees were very different. I believe many reasons were involved,” Cheung said, adding the price difference was “strange.”

Cheung was asked if the police would track down individuals who obtained a certificate from the clinics in question one by one. The acting senior superintendent replied by saying the force’s probe was “exhaustive” and “comprehensive,” adding he could not disclose too many details as it was still underway.

Top government officials including Chief Executive John Lee have warned against using falsely obtained vaccination exemption certificates, saying it was a serious offence. Chief Secretary for Administration Eric Chan slammed the doctors who handed out the medical documents without diagnosis as “unethical” and “mercenary.”

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Ho Long Sze Kelly is a Hong Kong-based journalist covering politics, criminal justice, human rights, social welfare and education. As a Senior Reporter at Hong Kong Free Press, she has covered the aftermath of the 2019 extradition bill protests and the Covid-19 pandemic extensively, as well as documented the transformation of her home city under the Beijing-imposed national security law.

Kelly has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration. Prior to joining HKFP in 2020, she was on the frontlines covering the 2019 citywide unrest for South China Morning Post’s Young Post. She also covered sports and youth-related issues.