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Hongkongers Fear Tightening Regime Control as Officials Promote Mainland-style ‘Health Codes’

“Health codes” — a social control system implemented by the communist authorities in mainland China, may soon be introduced to Hong Kong as well
A native of New York, Alina has a Bachelors degree in Corporate Communications from Baruch College and writes about human rights' related issues, politics, tech and society.
Published: July 11, 2022
People are seen walking past a QR code for the LeaveHomeSafe contact-tracing app for COVID-19 at the Happy Valley Racecourse in Hong Kong on July 6, 2022. (Image: Lo Chun Kit via Getty Images)

Lo Chung-mau, newly appointed health chief for incoming Hong Kong leader John Lee’s government, said on July 10 that he would consider incorporating a “real-name registration system” to the Hong Kong epidemic prevention mobile app called “LeaveHomeSafe.” 

Lo added that the city may consider introducing a three-color management system of “green, yellow, and red codes” to limit the movement of “high-risk” people, and track their whereabouts.

After the announcement was made, residents voiced their concerns that Hong Kong’s authorities are increasingly aligning with the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) strict controls of society — which many believe would only accelerate the exodus of business professionals and ordinary Hongkongers leaving Hong Kong in search of other cities that offer more civil rights. 

According to various reports by Hong Kong’s state media, the COVID-19 situation has been worsening — with the city logging 2,992 new cases and 2 deaths on July 10.

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‘A collective trip to the afterlife’

According to Chuang Shuk-kwan, director of Hong Kong’s Communicable Disease Branch of Health Protection, the daily number of confirmed cases has remained at around 3,000 new infections per day. 

Based on past epidemic prevention trends, authorities have warned that the number of newly diagnosed cases may soon start to double — prompting the implementation of movement curbs and curfews in efforts to slow further spread of the virus. 

Before taking office, Lo claimed that “coexisting with the virus” would be the same as a “collective trip to the afterlife.” 

Hong Kong’s leadership has seen a recent restructuring in power — with new leader and staunch Beijing supporter John Lee officially taking over outgoing chief executive Carrie Lam on July 1. 

On July 10, Lo said during a televised interview that he was considering imitating the mainland’s “health code system” in order to optimize epidemic controls over Hong Kong’s population of almost 8 million people. 

Real names, health codes, COVID test passports

Lo added that there must be a system in place to prevent “at-risk people” from entering high-risk places. 

He said that in the near future, a three-color dynamic system of “green, yellow, and red codes” from mainland China may soon be introduced to Hong Kong, adding that, “If people with confirmed infections have freedom of movement, it will limit the freedom of the uninfected.”

As to whether a tracking function would be incorporated to the “LeaveHomeSafe” app, Lo said that it is not a main priority at the moment, and that “real-name registrations” are far more effective in order to “keep the public notified of relevant risks in an effective manner.”

According to pro-establishment outlet “Hong Kong 01,” which cited politicians with knowledge of the matter, Lo had privately stated that Hong Kong would not follow Macau’s example in implementing compulsory, nationwide inspection or “closure of the city,” but should focus instead on promoting more frequent nucleic acid testing.

In efforts to keep track of every citizen’s health status, every resident in mainland China is currently required to have a mobile phone reflecting their COVID status. 

People with green health codes are allowed to travel freely. Those with yellow or red codes are not allowed to visit public places such as supermarkets, gyms, hotels, restaurants, and so on. The affected individual has to then report all close contacts to health authorities, undergo quarantine and several nucleic acid tests before they can be cleared and given a green status again.

A roundabout means of regime control?

Following Lo’s announcement, netizens took to social media to voice their concerns that Hong Kong’s tightening security measures may soon see the city turning into mainland China. Some drew parallels between a banking crisis occurring in China’s Henan Province where thousands of residents using the Zhengzhou branch of the People’s Bank of China have had their bank accounts frozen without explanation, with that of Hong Kong’s increased erosion of civil rights. 

After protestors took to the streets to demand answers from the Zhengzhou bank, the health codes of some of those residents were mysteriously “turned red,” prompting questions over the authorities’ use of epidemic prevention measures under the guise of “maintaining stability.” 

“The authorities will slap people they don’t like with ‘red codes’ in order to limit their movement and put them in jail under the guise of epidemic prevention,” one user wrote on social media. 

Another said, “The Hong Kong communist government is hell-bent on coming up with policies to suppress the rights of Hongkongers.” 

Pan Xiaotao, a veteran media commentator based in Hong Kong, wrote on Facebook that in order to control all sectors of society — including the legal and judicial system — the CCP’s subsidiary organizations must control and permeate all facets of society.

“Through this big net, wherever you are, whatever you do, and whatever you say, not only can they [government organizations] surveil you, but they will also use those means to control and punish you.”

Pan, who worked at the now-shuttered Apple Daily, described the expansion of the CCP’s social control system in Hong Kong as a “fully sinicized system that will become a main form of societal control for those in power,” adding that he believes the next next step will be the implementation of the real-name health code system. 

“This is an important step,” Pan said, pointing out how the government’s constant watch may even flag “malicious” bank withdrawals and “malicious” departure from the city as “suspicious activities” that result in enhanced monitoring. 

“Forms of social control that are ‘legally inconvenient or unjustifiable’ can now be done under the guise of health controls,” he said. “What a convenient tool.”

With reporting by He Jiahui