Hongkongers on Wednesday got used to life without the government’s LeaveHomeSafe Covid-19 tracing app, with many welcoming the move.

LeaveHomeSafe Covid-19
A Hongkonger scans the LeaveHomeSafe code on December 14, when the scanning is no longer required to enter various businesses. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Chief Executive John Lee announced on Tuesday that mandatory use of the app to enter restaurants and other premises would be scrapped from Wednesday. However, the Vaccine Pass scheme, which requires proof of vaccination to be presented at certain venues, remains.

Queuing outside a ramen restaurant in Wan Chai during Wednesday’s busy lunch hour, a woman who gave her surname as Tong told HKFP that she would use a screenshot of her Vaccine Pass QR code instead of carrying a burner phone for the LeaveHomeSafe app, as she had been doing.

Tong said she thought the government should abolish the Vaccine Pass scheme, too. “So many people in Hong Kong are already vaccinated,” she said.

The city’s health chief, Lo Chung-mau, on Wednesday said that the Vaccine Pass had made an “unquestionable” contribution to boosting Hong Kong’s vaccination rate.

Tong added that the app had “zero” function, saying it had “failed” to track transmission of the virus during the fifth wave of Covid-19.

LeaveHomeSafe was initially introduced to track contacts of Covid-19 patients and alert users if they had been in the same venue as someone who was carrying the virus. However, the alerts were ceased in late February as infections rose exponentially, with health authorities citing a “bottleneck in nucleic acid tests.”

Thousands died during the Omicron-led outbreak, which peaked at around 70,000 daily cases in early March.

As of Tuesday, 82.8 per cent of Hong Kong’s eligible population have already received three or more doses of a Covid-19 jab. Around 63 per cent of elderly people aged 80 or above are triple jabbed, too.

Mr Wan, who visited the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre on Wednesday morning, said the experience felt more convenient after the QR code scanning was axed. “There’s no need to waste time and take out the phone,” he told HKFP.

He added that he would not be worried if the Vaccine Pass scheme were to be cancelled as well. “The rate of people having symptoms or dying [from Covid-19] is quite low,” he said.

Workers’ perspective

Lee, who worked in a vegetarian restaurant, told HKFP that the health authorities were “correct” to keep the Vaccine Pass. “There are still many infections.”

The grey-haired waiter said infected people might spread the disease if they dined in. “With the Vaccine Pass proving that [other patrons] are inoculated, their symptoms will be less severe, won’t they?” Lee asked.

LeaveHomeSafe Covid-19
LeaveHomeSafe codes remained visible across the city after the government stopped requiring its scanning for the entry of restaurants and other premises. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Meanwhile, Torres, a part-time waiter at a Korean restaurant said it was a “hassle” to scan patrons’ vaccine QR codes.

During peak hours, Torres said he would worry whether he had forgotten to check the vaccination proof of some customers. “I think they should abolish both,” he told HKFP.

To keep or not to keep

Schools in Hong Kong also stopped asking staff, service providers and guests to scan the LeaveHomeSafe code from Wednesday, although they are still required to show their Vaccine Pass upon entering a campus.

Yan, who had just picked up her son from the primary school, told HKFP she had no idea why she still needed to present her vaccination record.

“[School staff] wouldn’t know if the Vaccine Pass was yours,” she said, adding that “they cannot check your HKID card… when they don’t have such authority, but still ask you to do that, isn’t it superfluous?”

Yan also said she thought it was right for LeaveHomeSafe to stay dormant. “The government has many apps already, iAM Smart, eHealth… it is unnecessary for there to be that many apps.”

Yan Covid-19
Yan and her son. Photo: Peter Lee/HKFP.

In the meantime, Yan said she was still using the app for the storage of her and her son’s vaccination records, as she was unfamiliar with other methods.

Mr. Chan, who spoke to HKFP as he was leaving a cafe, said he would keep the app in case of future outbreaks. “Of course I won’t delete it, [another outbreak] can be here anytime, and you wouldn’t know,” he said.

He said authorities cannot immediately axe all Covid-19 measures. “It should be done in accordance to science,” he added.

‘Wrong target’

The health secretary defended the Vaccine Pass scheme when speaking on RTHK on Wednesday morning.

Lo said the usefulness of Vaccine Pass was “unquestionable,” and multiple countries across the globe had adopted similar legislations or measures to encourage Covid-19 vaccination.

LeaveHomeSafe Covid-19
LeaveHomeSafe codes remained visible across the city after the government stopped requiring its scanning for the entry of restaurants and other premises. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

“Our enemy is the coronavirus, and our current weakness is a low vaccination rate among the elderly. The enemy is neither vaccines, nor the Vaccine Pass, hope everyone no longer looks at the wrong target,” Lo said.

He added that he welcomed any suggestions on what would be “more effective” than the Vaccine Pass at raising vaccination coverage.

From Wednesday, health authorities also scrapped issuing amber codes to international and Taiwan arrivals, meaning visitors can now access restaurants and various businesses in Hong Kong immediately after landing.

However, travellers will still have to undergo a number of Covid-19 tests. Other Covid restrictions such as the outdoor mask mandate and a group gathering ban have remained in place as well.

The new adjustments to the city’s anti-epidemic measures came shortly after mainland China began to rapidly remove its strict Covid-19 restrictions following rare multi-city protests. But Lo has said Hong Kong would not “hastily” follow the mainland authorities.

As of Wednesday, Hong Kong has logged 2.29 million Covid-19 infections and 10,843 related deaths.

Support HKFP  |  Policies & Ethics  |  Error/typo?  |  Contact Us  |  Newsletter  | Transparency & Annual Report | Apps

Help safeguard press freedom & keep HKFP free for all readers by supporting our team

contribute to hkfp methods
childrens vaccine
social distancing
what to do if you get covid
vax pass
face masks
rapid test buying guide
Bobby Covid book 2
support hong kong free press generic

Peter Lee is a reporter for HKFP. He was previously a freelance journalist at Initium, covering political and court news. He holds a Global Communication bachelor degree from CUHK.