HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong authorities will launch a new “health code” mobile phone application next week that travellers to mainland China would be required to use as the city prepares for a partial reopening of the border with the rest of the country.
The app will be similar to one in China, storing a user’s name, address and vaccination status, with a function to scan QR codes to enter restaurants and other venues. It also assigns infection risk to users based largely on their past check-ins.
Unlike China’s app, Hong Kong’s will not track a user’s movement, the government said. Only Hong Kong residents who plan to cross the border are required to use the app, which will be available from Dec. 10.
“We will launch the app next week for the public to test and trial and facilitate the gradual reopening of the border,” Alfred Sit, secretary for innovation and technology, said in a news conference.
The global financial hub has followed Beijing’s lead and implemented some of the world’s strictest travel restrictions, hoping China, its main source of economic growth, would allow some cross-border movement.
Delegations from the two governments met in tech hub Shenzhen last week and noted “good progress”, but city authorities also said in a statement Hong Kong needed to launch the new app and prepare boundary control points.
Cross-border travel resumption will initially be subject to a limited quota, the government said.
The Omicron coronavirus variant that surfaced last week and raised anxiety around the world has been discovered in mandatory testing of inbound travellers, but has not spilled over from Hong Kong’s quarantine hotels into the wider community.
Despite barely any local cases this year and an environment virtually free of COVID-19, Hong Kong has maintained its mandatory hotel quarantine of up to 21 days for arrivals from most countries at the travellers’ cost.
(Reporting by Jessie Pang; Writing by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Tom Hogue)