Hong Kong's Immigration counters on the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge Photo: Wikimedia Commons/N509FZ

The Hong Kong government will soon launch a health code system that will allow people to travel between Hong Kong, Macau and Guangdong province in China without being quarantined for 14-days, according to local media.

The government will first assign eight hospitals and labs to handle coronavirus tests for those who want to travel to Macau and Guangdong, Hong Kong media reported on Thursday, citing unnamed sources.

Each test will cost about HK$1,500 (US$194). Anyone who tests negative will be given a health QR code, which will be valid for seven days. 

It is expected that major users of this health code system will be business travelers, who can afford to pay for the test. 

On Thursday, Hong Kong’s Health Department gave briefings to eight hospitals and labs about how to upload a person’s coronavirus test result to a centralized health code system, RTHK reported. It will announce the details of this system soon.

Such a health code system is suitable for relatively low-risk areas, such as Hong Kong, Macau and Guangdong province, said Leung Chi-chiu, who chairs the Hong Kong Medical Association’s advisory committee on communicable diseases.

However, Leung said a health code cannot prevent people with the coronavirus from crossing the borders due to the extra-long incubation period of the disease.

“The infection risk is especially high in the first seven days,” Leung said. “The screening announced using nucleic acid may not be able to pick up the infection and it cannot exclude transmission risk rising after the test, and it can only be used for allowing quarantine free travel between no-risk areas, but not from epidemic zones.”

On June 2, the Hong Kong government extended social distancing rules by two weeks until June 18. It also extended the 14-day home quarantine requirements for people arriving from the mainland, Macau and Taiwan by one month to July 7, according to the Compulsory Quarantine of Certain Persons Arriving at Hong Kong Regulation.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam said at that time that those who travel between China’s Guangdong province and Hong Kong would be exempted from the requirements after a mutually-recognized health code system was launched.

Since April 28, the Shenzhen government has required all incoming travelers to be quarantined in designated hotels for 14 days. 

As Macau has not recorded any Covid-19 cases for 63 days, both the Macau and Guangdong provincial governments on Wednesday agreed to allow people to freely travel across their borders for business and work after registration.

Since May, people have been allowed to travel between Macau and Zhuhai, which have mutually recognized each other’s health codes.

Hong Kong also wanted to form such a “travel bubble” with Macau and Guangdong province, but progress has been slow after some local infections were recorded in the financial city over the past month.

Jason Wong Chun-tat, the chairman of Hong Kong’s Travel Industry Council, said it was likely that Hong Kong and Macau could set up a “travel bubble” first, but it may take one to two months to kick off. Wong said he hoped the government would subsidize people who do the tests so more people can get the health codes for travel.

In late March, Hubei province, which was hit hard by the pandemic earlier this year, launched a health QR code system for its people to return to their workplaces in other Chinese cities after a two-month-long lockdown. 

People have to complete a health questionnaire regarding their daily routines and travel history for the system to generate a QR code based on their input. These codes will also bear colors for easier identification by health inspectors and law enforcers: green means an all-clear so a bearer can go anywhere, while yellow means risks, as a person could be a close contact of a Covid-19 patient and must be confined to their homes or an isolation facility, and red indicates a confirmed case.

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