A Hong Kong lawmaker has questioned the legal basis on which the government voided Covid-19 vaccination exemption certificates issued by seven private doctors suspected of handing out the documents without prior diagnosis.

Secretary for Health Lo Chung-mau and the government should explain why they had the authority to invalidate more than 20,000 certificates exempting people from receiving a Covid-19 jab, legislator and solicitor Doreen Kong said on Commercial Radio on Wednesday.

Doreen Kong
Doreen Kong. File photo: Legislative Council, via Flickr.

Kong was referring to a government announcement last Tuesday, when it said jab exemption proof obtained from Dr Tai Kong-shing, Dr Annie Choi, Dr Fu Yuen-lung, Dr Wong Ping-leung, Dr Charlie Yan, Dr Chan Hoi-yuk and Dr Amy Lam would not be recognised from October 12. Those holding certificates from those practitioners should consult other doctors to see whether they could receive a Covid-19 jab or be granted another exemption, authorities said.

It came after the police arrested six of the doctors last month for allegedly issuing the exemption without conducting consultation or reviewing the patients’ medical history. They were said to have charged between HK$350 and around HK$5,000 for each certificate. Chan was reportedly wanted by the Force after officers rounded up staff from his clinic back in March. He was not in Hong Kong at the time.

Legislator Kong said on Wednesday that the exemption proof was not merely a doctor’s note, but rather a certificate regulated under the Prevention and Control of Disease (Vaccine Pass) Regulation.

The legislation did not state clearly under which circumstances the Health Bureau would have the authority not to recognise the exemption certificates, the lawmaker said. Asked if the authorities had acted “ultra vires,” or beyond their authority, Kong said there was a possibility that the government announcement would be challenged in court.

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

She called on the city’s health chief to offer clarification and allay people’s concerns, adding that the government could not simply cite “reasonable doubt” in rendering more than 20,000 certificates invalid.

Responding to local media, authorities earlier described the voiding of the exemption certificates in question as an arrangement under the Vaccine Pass scheme, rather than a direct nullification of the documents.

Kong criticised the response, asking: “What’s the difference between not recognising the certificates and annulling them? How can you [decide] not to recognise some 20,000 certificates so heedlessly?”

A more reasonable arrangement would be to evaluate the exemption proof in question to see if they were issued without justifications, and whether the documents matched the five criteria listed in the legislation, Kong said.

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

The radio host asked Kong if she would represent residents to file a judicial review against the government’s decision, the lawmaker did not give a direct response. She said that even if the court were to rule in the government’s favour, the authorities would “lose popularity.”

Kong’s remarks came a day after she wrote on Facebook on Tuesday that she “cannot stand” to see the government implementing such an “imperious” measure in a society governed by the rule of law. The allegations against the seven doctors required proof, the lawmaker said, questioning why the government did not have to show evidence to justify the invalidation of the certificates.

“The rule of law is the cornerstone of Hong Kong, it is also an important part of One Country, Two Systems. Who is destroying the rule of law now?“ Kong’s post read.

‘Sensible and reasonable’

On Wednesday, the city’s number two official Eric Chan defended the government’s decision as “sensible and reasonable.” The chief secretary for administration said if citizens delayed receiving a Covid-19 jab after obtaining an exemption certificate issued without appropriate clinical assessment, it would increase their risk of suffering from severe symptoms or even death if infected. It would also put “unnecessary pressure” on the public healthcare system, he added.

“Allowing exemption certificates that were [excessively issued] by the doctors to continue to be used as a Vaccine Pass would affect public health and citizens’ heath,” Chan wrote on his Facebook page on Wednesday night.

In a statement issued in the late hours of Wednesday, the government said those who obtained a jab exemption proof from the practitioners in question could visit private doctors or the Hospital Authority’s general outpatient clinics, where a HK$50 service fee would be waived.

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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.