HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong leader John Lee on Tuesday defended the city’s plan to implement health codes that would more specifically restrict the movements of inbound travelers and those infected with COVID-19. , dismissing concerns that the system could be used for political purposes. or tool of social control.
Lee, who spoke at a regular press conference, said the health code plan was part of the city’s goal to adopt “specific strategies to minimize the scope of restrictions.”
“We are a law abiding place, the government will of course abide by the law,” he said. “All measures to fight the epidemic will not be used for other purposes, it will not happen.”
He was speaking a day after the city’s health chief unveiled plans to implement a health code system in which those infected with COVID-19 would be given a red code, while those in quarantine at the hotel would receive a yellow code. Those who receive such codes will have their movements restricted.
The health code measures are being considered amid rising COVID-19 infections after the city battled its worst outbreak that pushed its cumulative tally to more than 1 million infections and more than 9 000 dead.
Hong Kong reported more than 2,700 cases on Tuesday. The city has averaged more than a thousand infections a day since mid-June.
The planned health code system has raised concerns about privacy and social control after Chinese media reported that mainland Chinese authorities used its health code system to prevent residents from attending a planned protest in a bank in Henan province.
Lee said the health code system is a way of “early identification” of possible infections while affecting the least number of people.
“Our goal is to allow most people to continue with their lives with minimal restrictions,” Lee said, adding that only those infected with COVID-19 and inbound travelers will be restricted by health codes.
Ben Cowling, professor of epidemiology at the University of Hong Kong, said code yellow for incoming travelers, if used with the current seven-day hotel quarantine system, would not have much effect. because people who leave the hotel quarantine have a lower risk of infection than the rest of the population.
However, if intended for use with home quarantine instead of hotel quarantine, the result will be “more transmission”, he said.
Cowling said the city should rely on vaccines and antivirals to minimize serious illness.
Despite Lee’s assurances about the health code system, some Hong Kong residents remain wary about it.
“It’s a huge privacy issue, it’s like putting a target in the back of people who get red or yellow codes,” said Wong Wing-tsang, a 33-year-old Hong Kong resident. “Here there is always the attitude that people treat people with COVID-19 like outcasts.”
Lee, who became city leader on July 1, said Hong Kong is taking an intolerant approach to the coronavirus, similar to mainland China’s “zero-COVID” policy. The city remains one of the few places, along with mainland China, to maintain restrictions such as a mandatory quarantine period as much of the world has opened up.
“Long term, I think we have to be realistic about the kinds of risks we may face,” Lee said.
But some experts say the health code system has only a very limited impact on preventing the spread of omicron variants that are causing outbreaks in the rest of the world.
“Look at the objective facts, in mainland China and Macau, the health code system has been working for quite some time and yet we are seeing various variations being imported into different cities,” said Dr. Leung Chi-chiu, respiratory disease specialist. specialist. “COVID-19 is not something we can prevent using a health code and that is the objective reality.”
He said authorities should work to increase vaccination rates among high-risk groups such as the elderly and the very young, and that if the city is to open up to the rest of the world while controlling outbreaks, it must first begin by easing social distancing restrictions to boost the immunity of its residents.
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