Coronavirus: Hongkongers may need to scan QR codes into Covid-19 app at some premises

  • Chief Executive Carrie Lam said the government could make using the ‘Leave Home Safe’ app mandatory to help trace infections
  • The city has entered a ‘fourth wave’ with the number of untraceable infections in the city hitting a four-month high

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It may become compulsory to scan a QR code when you eat out. Photo: SCMP/ Nora Tam

As Covid-19 infections hit a four-month high, Hong Kong officials are thinking about making residents scan a QR code when they go to certain places in the city.

A total of 115 confirmed coronavirus cases were reported on Sunday, leading to the government suspending face-to-face classes at all schools.

A government source told SCMP that officials were considering making the scanning of QR codes into the “Leave Home Safe” app a condition for entering some premises, much like temperature checks, to help infection control and tracing.

Authorities earlier said businesses providing dine-in services and premises such as gyms and cinemas would have to apply for a venue QR code on or before December 2 and display it.

On Thursday, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor told lawmakers the government would make scanning a code mandatory if necessary.

But some experts doubt the effectiveness of the approach.

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Chinese University’s Professor David Hui Shu-cheong, a respiratory medicine expert and an adviser to the government on the coronavirus, said social-distancing rules should be tightened at places where people gather without wearing masks, especially restaurants and karaoke rooms.

“The biggest problem is that the coronavirus has deeply penetrated the community … and the dance cluster has amplified the silent transmission chain,” he said.

Hui said the app would only be successful for contact tracing if people actively downloaded it and most venues agreed to set up a QR code.

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“The point of the app is for [infected] people to recall where they have been during their incubation period and for others to know if they had previously been to those places,” he said.

Dr Leung Chi-chiu, a specialist in respiratory medicine, said the app was too cumbersome for users and had no direct link to cutting the silent transmission chain.

“Even if the app is mandatory for all residents, are places like restaurants supposed to force customers to scan the QR code?”

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He suggested health authorities curtail social gatherings as soon as possible to prevent a wider virus spread.

Francis Fong Po-kiu, honorary president of the Hong Kong Information Technology Federation, expected some problems if scanning was made mandatory.

“How to make it compulsory? Does a security guard have to be deployed there?” Fong said.

He said to make the app successful, it would need the participation of many people and premises. But the biggest challenge would be to get residents to scan the code willingly, Fong said, partly because of a lack of trust in the government.

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