Hong Kong leader defends health code plan to combat COVID-19

Hong Kong — Hong Kong leader John Lee on Tuesday defended the implementation of the city’s plan Health Codes that would more precisely restrict the activities of inbound travelers and those infected with COVID-19, allaying concerns that the system could be used as a political or social control tool.

Lee, who spoke at a regular news conference, said Health The code plan is part of the city’s aim to adopt “precise strategies to reduce the scope of sanctions”.

“We are a law-abiding place, the government will definitely follow the law,” he said. “Any measure taken to combat the pandemic will not be used for other purposes that are not going to happen.”

he was speaking a day after the city Health The chief unveiled plans to implement a health code system in which those infected with COVID-19 would receive a red code, while hotels under quarantine would receive a yellow code. The movement of those receiving such codes will be restricted.

The health code measures are being considered amid a surge in COVID-19 infections after the city battled its worst outbreak, which brought its cumulative tally to more than one million infections and more than 9,000 dead.

Hong Kong reported more than 2,700 cases on Tuesday. On an average, more than a thousand infections have been reported daily in the city since mid-June.

The planned health code system has sparked concerns over privacy and social controls after Chinese media reported that mainland Chinese authorities had changed their health code to prevent residents from participating in a planned protest at a bank in Henan province. system is used.

Lee said the health code system is a way of “early detection” of potential infections while affecting the least number of people.

“Our aim is to allow most people to carry on with their lives with minimal restrictions,” Lee said, adding that only those infected with COVID-19 and inbound travelers would be restricted by the health code.

Ben Cowling, an epidemiology professor at the University of Hong Kong, said the yellow code for inbound travelers, if used alongside the current system of seven days of hotel quarantine, would not have much effect because those who leave hotel quarantine, They have less risk. infection compared to the rest of the population.

However, if it is intended for use with home quarantine rather than hotel quarantine, the result would be “more transmission”, he said.

Cowling said the city must rely on vaccines and antivirals to reduce serious illness.

Despite Lee’s assurances about the health code system, some Hong Kong residents remain wary of it.

“It’s a huge privacy issue, it’s like aiming at the backs of people receiving red or yellow codes,” said Wong Wing-tsang, 33, a Hong Kong resident. “Here, there is still an attitude where people with COVID-19 tend to be ostracized.”

Lee, who became the city’s leader on July 1, has been vocal about adopting an intolerant approach to Hong Kong coronavirus, similar to mainland China’s “zero-Covid” policy. The city is one of the few places, along with mainland China, where much of the world has opened up to maintain restrictions such as mandatory quarantine periods.

“In the long run, I think we need to be realistic about what kind of risks we face,” Lee said.

But some experts say the health code system has a very limited effect on preventing the spread of Omicron variants, which are spreading outbreaks to the rest of the world.

“Look at the objective facts, in mainland China and Macau, they have had a health code system in place for quite some time and yet we are seeing imports of different types in different cities,” said Dr. Leung Chi-chiu, a respiratory institute specialist. “Covid-19 is not something we can prevent using a health code and that is the objective reality.”

He said officials should work on increasing vaccination rates among high-risk groups such as the elderly and the very young, and keeping outbreaks under control if the city wants to open up to the rest of the world. It has to start first by easing social distancing restrictions to build immunity among its residents.

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