The seven Hong Kong doctors accused of issuing false Covid-19 vaccine exemption certificates have been suspended from giving out more exemptions, as well as inoculating others and receiving relevant subsidies from the government, the Department of Health has said.

Six of the doctors suspected of the alleged misconduct have been arrested, one of whom has been charged with “access to computer with dishonest intent.” The seven were believed to have signed off more than 20,000 medical exemption certificates, accounting for more than half of such documents that are still valid in Hong Kong.

Covid-19 vaccine. Photo; GovHK.

The department stressed that it has been following up on the incident “actively and seriously” in a press statement on Wednesday evening, adding it took action immediately after the government noticed the concerned irregularities.

“The [Department of Health] immediately suspended those doctors’ participation in the COVID-19 Vaccination Programme and is retrieving the COVID-19 vaccines distributed to the concerned doctors earlier, and they can not provide further COVID-19 vaccination service to the public,” the statement read.

“Furthermore, the DH has also suspended the involved doctors’ participation in other subsidy programmes under the department (such as other vaccination subsidy schemes and the Elderly Health Care Voucher Scheme).”

The practitioners were also referred to the Medical Council of Hong Kong for follow-up, it added. Authorities warned that doctors should only issue an exemption after following detailed guidelines.

Expiry of exemptions

The government said on Tuesday the vaccination exemption certificates issued by the doctors in question would be invalidated on October 12. Anyone holding an exemption issued by them should consult other practitioners to confirm whether they can receive a Covid-19 jab, authorities said.

Patrons must have present their vaccine or exemption QR code upon entry to most premises. The premises’ staff are required to verify the QR codes authenticity using another government app. Photo: HK Gov screenshot.

The government has vowed to crack down on practitioners it described as “unethical” and “mercenary,” and who “endangered” people’s health and impeded economic recovery by falsely issuing proof of exemptions. Police said their investigation would look into the “strange” price difference for the certificates, which ranged from HK$350 to HK$5,000.

The authorities also warned people against using fake exemption documents after at least 20 people who obtained their documents from clinics that were being investigated were arrested.

Vaccine Pass

The city’s tough Covid-19 policy restricts access to shopping malls, supermarkets, places of worship and other premises for unvaccinated people through the use of the LeaveHomeSafe contact tracing app.

A sign in Cityplaza in Taikoo Shing telling visitors to wear a mask, use the vaccine pass and scan the LeaveHomeSafe Covid-19 contact-tracing app. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Residents with certain pre-existing health conditions can be exempted from having to take the jabs, however, the vaccines are safe for the vast majority of people.

Several practitioners told HKFP that some patients feared adverse effects from the vaccines and wanted to be exempted.

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Almond Li

Almond Li is a Hong Kong-based journalist who previously worked for Reuters and Happs TV as a freelancer, and as a reporter at Hong Kong International Business Channel, Citizen News and Commercial Radio Hong Kong. She earned her Masters in Journalism at the University of Southern California. She has an interest in LGBT+, mental health and environmental issues.