Hong Kong’s number two official has vowed to hunt down doctors who issued fraudulent Covid-19 vaccination exemption certificates, accusing them of endangering the health of the community, after police reportedly arrested three more medics and eight patients.

The government will pursue doctors suspected of writing fake certificates for exemptions from jabs, Chief Secretary for Administration Eric Chan said in a Facebook post on Wednesday.

Eric Chan
Photo: Lea Mok/HKFP

Police on Tuesday night arrested a doctor and three of his assistants after a clinic in Yau Ma Tei allegedly issued vaccination exemption certificates – for HK$4,000 to HK$5,000 each – without any medical consultation or review of the patients’ history.

Local media reported on Thursday that eight people who allegedly bought false documents from the doctor were also detained. They were said to have visited the clinic on the day police sent undercover officers there before arresting the doctor and his assistants.

The chief secretary said Hong Kong’s daily Covid caseload still stood in the thousands, and it was people’s “civic responsibility” to protect themselves and others and to “stand united” in fighting the pandemic.

The issuance of false vaccination exemption documents would encourage the spread of the virus in the community and endanger people’s health, as well as impede economic recovery, Chan said.

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

“Unfortunately, some unethical Western medicine doctors are mercenaries who disregarded the interests of society for personal gains… I strongly condemn their behaviour,” the official wrote.

In Hong Kong, anyone convicted of producing false documents could face up to 14 years’ imprisonment.

On Thursday, local media cited police sources as saying that three more doctors had been arrested on suspicion of handing out false Covid-19 jab exemption certificates. The reports said they were all private practitioners whose clinics were based in Chai Wan, Yuen Long and Tin Shui Wai.

One of them was detained at home and is expected to be brought to his clinic later for an evidence search.

Police have yet to confirm the new arrests.

Hong Kong Police
Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

On Thursday, Secretary for Health Lo Chung-mau said the government set out “very clear” guidelines and criteria for the issuance of medical exemptionscertificates. The minister, who met with the press after receiving his fourth Sinovac jab together with an influenza vaccine, said the Covid-19 vaccine was “very safe” with few adverse symptoms.

He said the public should understand that using and possessing a false exemption certificate could warrant the same level of penalty as producing and issuing the document.

“[C]onsidering the fact that some of these clinics have issued over 100 or even thousands of certificates of exemption for Covid vaccines, this is definitely highly suspicious,” Lo said.

Lo Chung-mau
Secretary for Health Lo Chung-mau. Photo: Almond Li/HKFP.

“I would certainly urge both our medical professionals and the public to try to avoid doing this. This is really a criminal offence,” he added.

The authorities this month stepped up efforts to crack down on false Covid-19 vaccination exemption certificates, beginning with the arrest of private practitioner Annie Choi, 64, on September 5, after she was suspected of handing out vaccine exemptions to over 6,000 people without diagnosis. She has not yet been charged.

The city’s tough Covid policy restricts access to shopping malls, supermarkets, places of worship and other premises for unvaccinated citizens. But several practitioners have told HKFP that some patients fear adverse effects from the jabs and want to be exempted.

Clarification 17.30: An earlier headline on this story said that three doctors and eight patients had been arrested over fake vaccination certificates. It was corrected to clarify that those apprehended were suspected of issuing false vaccination exemption certificates.

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Kelly Ho

Kelly Ho has an interest in local politics, education and sports. She formerly worked at South China Morning Post Young Post, where she specialised in reporting on issues related to Hong Kong youth. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration.