A Leave Home Safe QR code is displayed at a shopping mall in Tsing Yi. Photo: Yik Yeung-man
Mike Rowse
Mike Rowse

Health code system must be a precursor to ending all Covid-19 measures in Hong Kong, not a way to drag them out

  • For the proposed ‘traffic light’ feature on the Leave Home Safe app to be worthwhile, it must gradually replace the quarantine, testing and mask mandates. If it is simply another layer of control, forget it
In the past few days, there has been some welcome clarification of just what is and is not included in the proposed “traffic light” addition to the Leave Home Safe app for controlling the spread of Covid-19.
Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu has confirmed that any change to the software will only be for public health reasons. This was an essential assurance. Ultimately, minimising the spread of the virus depends on cooperation of the community. The slightest whiff of the change being used to smuggle in extra objectives would have forfeited the required goodwill.
But there remain some areas where further detail is needed. Based on my personal experience, I hope we can have some assurances that there will be substantial improvements to the government’s IT infrastructure.

When I contracted Covid-19 last month, my first 20 attempts to register on the official website from my home computer failed, apparently on the grounds that I had misreported my ID card number. I do not pretend to be adept at technology but this is one of the few areas where I am confident of my knowledge.

A woman uses the Leave Home Safe app at Kwong Wah Hospital, Mong Kok, on June 13. Photo: K.Y. Cheng

Moreover, the nurse at the Covid-19 clinic, well versed in such matters, also struggled to complete the registration using my phone. Only at the fifth attempt was she successful.

Back at home, I received follow-up messages instructing me to register on a government website to answer further questions. Typing in the address given generated the response “No such page”. I must admit that I gave up.

Another area for further clarification is how a Hongkonger can acquire a green light. We know who gets a red one – people under quarantine who shouldn’t be out – and who gets a yellow one – people whose movements are restricted. But the mainland system on which ours is to be based also has a green one.

Will everyone who has the app on their phone be presumed to be green if they are not red or yellow, or will this have to be proved separately? Will this mean a citywide PCR testing operation like the one conducted last week in Macau, combined with an identity proving exercise? This needs a clear explanation either way.


Macau shuts down for mass testing after 31 people test positive for Covid-19

Macau shuts down for mass testing after 31 people test positive for Covid-19
Even setting aside these matters, there is an issue which is vital in determining the future of our city as an international business centre. The view of the international community is that the long-term aim should be to reach a situation of no quarantine, no tests, no checks and no masks. Some of our competitors in the region have already reached this situation.

Common sense suggests we cannot hope to achieve all these milestones at once. We may have to suspend progress in some aspects to secure success in others. All understood. But we must be seen to be moving forward.

The question remains whether the extensive social restrictions of the past 2½ years are temporary measures to get us over the crisis, or whether they are permanent changes to our way of life.

Travellers heading to the mainland wait for PCR test results at Shenzhen Bay Port on July 13. Photo: K.Y. Cheng
Take quarantine: all the talk has been of allowing returning residents to stay at home for all or part of the seven days, or of shortening the overall period. These discussions are welcome as interim improvements, but the ultimate objective must be complete abolition.
As regards tests, the talk has been of doing more, with PCR tests replacing RATs. That’s fine, provided it’s an interim step towards complete cessation. Bit it’s not OK if the future holds multiple sticks up the nose and to the back of the throat. Likewise with checking temperature and vaccination status on entry to premises.
Then there is the issue of mask wearing. Recently, I have noticed a change in public mood towards compliance. Some months ago, anyone whose mask was not worn correctly could expect to be publicly berated by a self-appointed vigilante. Now the public seem more relaxed. But I have yet to hear a single official speak about ending the mask mandate.
A man jogs along the waterfront in Tsim Sha Tsui. Since May, masks are not required when exercising. Photo: Dickson Lee

Important economic activities are starting to drift away from Hong Kong. The exhibition industry recently reported that some major events had been lost, hopefully on a temporary basis, but the fear was that they might never return unless policies were amended.

Similarly with sporting events. Hong Kong is a natural choice to host the world snooker championship. We and the mainland have several of the world’s top players – including the No 2 woman.
The scheduled August event has been pushed back to October but there are doubts it will go ahead even then under our present regime. The same clouds hover over the Rugby Sevens, despite the keenness at top government levels to combine it with an important business conference in November.

The world won’t stop turning for Hong Kong

Singapore recently reported over 24,000 cases in a single day. The health minister said the situation was manageable, part of the price of opening up. On that same day, Hong Kong had about a tenth the number of cases; our daily press conference was doom-laden.

So it comes down to mindset. We have some of the highest rates of vaccination, and immunity through previous infection, in the world. If adopting the traffic light system is just another layer of control, then forget it. But, if it will give us the confidence to reclaim our title of Asia’s world city, then let’s go for it.

Mike Rowse is the CEO of Treloar Enterprises