Covid-19 patients isolating at home in HK will have to wear a tracking wristband starting July 15

Stock photo showing electronic wristbands used for monitoring people under quarantine for Covid-19 in Hong Kong. Photo: Hong Kong’s Office of the Government Chief Information Officer
Stock photo showing electronic wristbands used for monitoring people under quarantine for Covid-19 in Hong Kong. Photo: Hong Kong’s Office of the Government Chief Information Officer

All patients infected with Covid-19 who are isolating at home in Hong Kong will have to wear an electronic tracking wristband starting July 15, health authorities announced on Monday.

The announcement comes as the government defended its plan to introduce real-name registration for the LeaveHomeSafe contact tracing app, stressing it is to identify individuals who are infected with the virus or need to quarantine, and not for tracking purposes. 

Speaking at the government’s daily coronavirus presser on Monday, Secretary for Health Lo Chung-mau noted that close to 60 percent of infected people in the city are now isolating at home, with the figure standing at 12,419 as of Sunday. 

Hence, he said it is necessary to introduce measures such as wearing an electronic wristband to ensure they do not leave their home during the isolation period.

On the real-name system for the LeaveHomeSafe app, which he said on Sunday was being studied by authorities, Lo stressed it “will not limit the freedom of residents who are not infected or need not quarantine.”

The health secretary said on an RTHK program earlier in the day that there are currently no policies in place to ensure that those infected with Covid-19 do not go to high risk areas, including restaurants, hospitals and care homes. 

“Every day, we have 2,000 to 3,000 [new cases of] people infected with [Covid-19]. A large proportion is undergoing home isolation,” he added.

Hence, Lo said it is necessary to introduce the real-name system — which will come with a traffic light-style health code that is akin to that of the mainland — to ensure infected individuals are barred from entering high risk venues.

To do so, the health chief said that those who receive a positive PCR test result will get a red code, meaning they cannot go into such venues. 

He also sought to dispel rumors that the government will hand out red codes for no reason.

“[The real-name system] is to identify and not track the high risk people to ensure they do not endanger other residents and high risk individuals,” he said. 

Lo added that it is also necessary due to calls for a reduction of the current seven-day hotel quarantine for inbound travelers. 

He said if the government were to implement measures such as allowing those individuals to go home earlier for quarantine or self-monitoring, an amber code will come in handy to prevent them from entering high risk areas as they also carry the risk of becoming infected with the virus. 

He also said that people with an amber code could return to work or school for example, but cannot go to places like hospitals or care homes, or participate in activities that require them to take off the mask.

Lo added that authorities planned to implement the new LeaveHomeSafe format as soon as possible, pending the Innovation, Technology and Industry Bureau’s work in modifying the app. 

Surveillance and privacy concerns have been raised over the mainland-style health code, with some worrying that requiring people to use their real names would give the government the ability to track and control their movements.

Editor’s note: The story has been updated to include Secretary for Health Lo Chung-mau’s comments at the government’s daily Covid-19 presser on Monday.

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