Coronavirus: Hong Kong authorities using electric wristbands to monitor residents under quarantine

Authorities forcing all people with recent travel history into isolation for 14 days as fears rise over ‘explosion’ in cases

Samuel Lovett
Tuesday 17 March 2020 18:33
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Hong Kong authorities are asking people under quarantine to wear electronic wristbands in order to track their movements, as the region deploys new measures to prevent an “explosion” in coronavirus cases.

Although Hong Kong reported its first infections as early as January, intensive social distancing, movement restrictions and a strong community community response have helped to limit the spread of the outbreak.

But amid the growing scale of the global pandemic – which has elevated the risk of coronavirus being brought into the region by visitors and returning residents – officials are concerned by the prospect of a surge in cases.

“In many countries the number of confirmed cases can be described as explosive,” Carrie Lam, the chief executive of Hong Kong, said during her weekly press conference on Tuesday.

“If we don’t adopt some strict measures ... I’m afraid all precaution efforts done in the past two months would be wasted. It will affect the public health of Hong Kong.”

As such, Ms Lam announced that people entering the Chinese-ruled region from Thursday onward will be forced into quarantine for 14 days.

Hong Kong had previously designated three public housing blocs for quarantine, but those will be reserved for the high-risk cases.

The lower-risk cases will be provided with electronic wristbands, and an accompanying smartphone app, which alert officials if such persons violate the quarantine.

“So far, 5,000 reusable wristbands produced by the (technology) centre are readily available and another 60,000 disposable wristbands have been procured from the market, 5,000 of which were delivered and tested and the remaining 55,000 will be delivered in batches,” said the government in a statement.

Schools, which have been shut since January, were unlikely to resume on 20 April as initially planned, Ms Lam added.

Only last month, all residents returning from China’s Hubei province – the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak – were quarantined at home and told to wear the tracking wristbands.

At the time, authorities warned that violators could be subject to fines worth 5,000 Hong Kong dollars (£530) and up to six months’ jail time.

The outbreak in Hong Kong has brought back memories of the 2003 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome and triggered a strong response from the community.

Hand sanitisers are freely available in shopping malls and office buildings, where people’s temperatures are also checked electronically.

Door handles, elevator buttons and other surfaces regularly exposed to crowds are disinfected several times a day. Most residents wear masks and avoid large social interactions.

For more than a month streets and other public areas have been largely deserted as many residents worked from home. Many companies are yet to recall all staff to their offices.

Those measures have taken a heavy toll on an economy already facing its worst recession in a decade, with retailers and the tourism sector warning they are struggling to survive.

Four of the 157 confirmed coronavirus patients in Hong Kong have so far died, while 50 of the latest 57 cases were people with recent travel history.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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