Coronavirus: HK health code compatible with mainland China and Macau’s to launch next week as border reopening comes into sight

03-Dec-2021 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 5:02 AM Print This Post

Hong Kong will launch a long-awaited Covid-19 health code compatible with the version used in mainland China on December 10, one of the final pieces of the puzzle needed for a reopening of cross-border travel.

The city’s risk-exposure “Leave Home Safe” app will be updated from 9am that day, according to Secretary for Innovation and Technology Alfred Sit Wing-hang, who said it would now include a function linking it to the health code registration website.

“We will launch the app next week for the public to test and trial and facilitate the gradual reopening of the border with mainland,” he said.

Sit added that the government would send outreach teams to help familiarise the public with the new health code, calling for telecom companies and charitable organisations to give free smartphones to the needy so they could download “Leave Home Safe” and access the new function.

Hong Kong’s health code would also be connected with Macau’s version for future resumption of cross-border travel, he said.

Following last week’s meeting between the governments of Hong Kong and Guangdong province, the two sides reached a consensus to begin reopening the border in a gradual manner as soon as possible.

Unveiling details at a Thursday press conference, Tony Wong Chi-kwong, deputy government chief information officer, said users would have to provide their full name and proof of home address to access the Hong Kong version of the health code.

Once all the information has been uploaded to the webpage, it will generate a colour-coded QR code, and the data will be sent to relevant government departments.

Only the green-coloured QR code will be accepted and scanned by border officers.

The mainland version of the health code app tracks users’ whereabouts via mobile phone signal data from three major telecoms companies: China Telecom, China Unicom and China Mobile.

It can show which countries or cities a user has visited within a 14-day window.

The tracking feature of the mainland’s health code app has raised privacy concerns among Hong Kong residents.

But Hongkongers who do not need to travel to the mainland can continue using “Leave Home Safe”, which does not share data with the government or mainland authorities.

A daily quota for businesspeople and residents travelling on compassionate grounds to neighbouring Guangdong province and possibly Macau could be in place this month 21 months after all but three of the city’s borders were closed in the early days of the pandemic.

The breakthrough comes after a trial run for the app as well as new border checkpoint procedures were completed “very successfully”, according to a source.

Hong Kong has kept coronavirus infections and deaths to a minimum, with no local cases recorded in months, but the city still maintains some of the world’s strictest inbound travel restrictions to align itself with the mainland’s zero-Covid approach.

The new health code and further tightening of quarantine rules for aircrew are widely seen as the final steps in meeting Beijing’s standards for a gradual border reopening.

Hong Kong’s “Leave Home Safe” app, which launched a year ago, lets users enter venues such as restaurants and bars by scanning a QR code. It has since been made mandatory at government facilities. From December 9, it will also be required at all local restaurants.

The risk-exposure app logs a digital diary of where a person has been, but the information is not shared with the government. Users receive a notification when a member of the public confirmed to be a Covid-19 patient has visited the same location.

Before the double whammy of the coronavirus pandemic and the 2019 anti-government protests, about 319,800 people crossed the mainland border from Hong Kong each day for work or tourism, according to the most recently available government numbers.

In the first 10 months of 2021, visitor arrivals from the mainland were virtually non-existent, dropping 98 per cent year-on-year to just 52,755 people.

About 2.7 million people crossed the border in 2020, with most of those arrivals coming in the early months of the pandemic. In stark contrast, 43.8 million came to the city in 2019.


Category: Hong Kong

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