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Bracelets for all as new quarantine takes effect

2020-03-18 HKT 23:22
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  • Bracelets for all as new quarantine takes effect
People coming into Hong Kong from overseas from Thursday will all be issued a new type of monitoring bracelet that officials say can raise the alarm and alert the authorities if they leave their quarantine location before the mandatory two-week period is up.

Starting Thursday, everyone travelling to Hong Kong from abroad is required to quarantine themselves at home, or another designated location for 14 days, as a safeguard against the rapidly-expanding Covid-19 pandemic.

Chief information officer Victor Lam displayed the new bracelets at a briefing for reporters at the airport – hours before the first overseas flights were due to arrive on Thursday morning when the new mandatory quarantine comes into force.

They resemble hospital bracelets, and are far lighter than the previous model that had been issued to some people who had already violated their quarantine.

It contains a QR code that pairs up with a smartphone app, which uses the strength of surrounding communications signals like Wifi, Bluetooth and GPS to determine whether the quarantined person has left the prescribed location.

Lam said the Privacy Commissioner had been consulted on the tech, and agreed that there shouldn't be any privacy concerns, because the app doesn’t directly capture the wearer’s precise location, only a change in his or her location, based on the strength or weakness of various signals.

“We already have more than 20,000 bracelets”, Lam said. “We can hand out ten to twenty thousand every day – every single incoming traveler will have one”, he said.

The app will send out an alert and inform both the Health Department and the police if the confinee is deemed to have left the quarantine location.

People shouldn’t try to get rid of their bracelets early either, he warned, saying people will be contacted at random and told to take a photo of their intact bracelet – or the alarm will be sounded.

Anyone who violates the quarantine order would be committing a criminal offence, and face a jail term of up to six months, along with a maximum HK$25,000 fine.

The new tech is a result of a collaboration between a start-up working out of the Science Park, and a local university.

Users can simply snip the bracelet in half with a pair of scissors and delete the app after the quarantine period is up.

The Health Secretary, Sophia Chan, also announced that officials will be starting random sampling for incoming travellers, even if they don’t have any symptoms at all.

A select few will be given containers to take home, where they can cough up some saliva from deep down their throats first thing in the morning to ensure an accurate test, before a friend or family member delivers the sample to the authorities for testing.

While Chan said this scheme will be scaled up in future, she ruled out the possibility that the tests could be extended to cover all incoming travellers, noting that tens of thousands of people are expected to return to Hong Kong over the next two weeks.

“In looking at the number of people coming back… we don’t think the current capacity of the laboratory will be able to do all the testing because we would have to save some of the capacity for close contacts of confirmed cases, and we need a buffer”, she explained.

Chan added that authorities will have to iron out any kinks in the new system which will require a large amount of travellers to be processed on arrival, having to go through temperature checks, hand in their health declaration forms, and have their quarantine arrangements sorted out.

She said officials are considering using facilities close to the airport, such as AsiaWorld Expo or North Lantau Hospital as additional processing centres if necessary, to thin out the crowd.

She urged all incoming travellers to comply with the new regulations, and tell the truth about their conditions in their health declaration forms, noting that failing to do so would also be a violation of their quarantine order.

“Self-discipline will have very large impact on the anti-epidemic work”, Chan said. “We hope they act in their own interest, for their families, and for Hong Kong. They shouldn’t just think they must be the lucky ones”, Chan said.

‘”We will strictly enforce the law.”

She defended the new mandatory quarantine order, noting that the vast majority of Covid-19 cases in Hong Kong recently are imported cases and those that they've infected.

People entering Hong Kong from the mainland have been required to undergo a 14-day quarantine since February 8. That order is still in force, and together with the new regulation, means only travellers from Taiwan and Macau are exempt.