Around 20,000 Covid-19 vaccination exemption certificates said to have been issued without proper prior medical assessment will be invalidated on November 9, the government has announced.

The announcement came a day after the authorities amended its Covid-19 law to empower the Secretary for Health to annul the medical documents, following a court’s ruling that the government had no legal grounds to invalidate the exemptions.

vaccine exemption invalidation
An invalidation declaration issued by Secretary for Health Lo Chung-mau.

In a press statement released on Wednesday, the government said the invalidation declaration was made after the health chief considered all relevant factors, including “loopholes of the Vaccine Pass scheme or the potential consequences caused by the damage to the scheme’s soundness.”

As of late September, seven doctors have been accused of allegedly issuing jab exemptions without conducting proper diagnosis. The 20,000 exemption certificates due to be nullified were all issued by these seven practitioners.

Seven clinic staff and 26 customers have also been apprehended.

If any of the seven doctors want to appeal, they can write to the health chief by next Tuesday, the statement read.

‘Not about winning’

Hours before the announcement, Secretary for Health Lo Chung-mau defended the swift legal amendment, saying the government was not trying to turn a loss into a win. He said it was not a matter of the government’s power, but its responsibility to protect the public.

“It is not about whether the government wins or someone else wins,” Lo said. “We have to make sure that all the citizens of Hong Kong win in this battle against Covid-19.”

lo chung mau
Secretary for Health Lo Chung-mau. Photo: Screenshot via RTHK.

When asked whether the amendment gave the impression of the government getting its way despite its defeat in court and whether that will affect its ability to govern, Lo said the intention of the law was to give the government sufficient power to bear the anti-epidemic responsibility. He added the incident was a proof of how the administration valued its people’s health.

‘Roller coaster ride’

The controversial move, however, has drawn criticism. On Wednesday, social welfare sector lawmaker Tik Chi-yuen said amending the law after losing the judicial challenge was a “brutal way” of handling the matter. It would have been more appropriate to appeal the case and allow more discussion in society, he said, adding that the government did not do so perhaps because it knew it did not have a case.

covid-19 coronavirus vaccine
Covid-19 vaccine. Photo; GovHK.

Alex Lam, chairman of non-profit group Hong Kong Patients’ Voices, said on a Commercial Radio programme that using executive means to amend laws was like abolishing the court’s ruling, adding the emotions of the 20,000-odd exemption holders had been taken on a “roller coaster ride.”

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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.