Coronavirus: inbound travellers from Europe, US to be issued Bluetooth quarantine wristbands at Hong Kong airport

Zoe Low

New electronic tracking wristbands will be used to monitor arrivals under quarantine orders to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, even as residents continued to report problems in activating the existing tracking system.

The Office of the Government Chief Information Officer (OGCIO) said the new Bluetooth wristbands would be in use from Wednesday at the airport, but only for those entering Hong Kong from Europe or the United States.

“The electronic wristband itself has a tracking function and when paired with the mobile app, it provides an extra guarantee the person is in fact at home,” said Victor Lam Wai-kiu, the Government Chief Information Officer.

As the wristbands are connected to the wearers’ mobile phones via Bluetooth, Lam said it would enable the authorities to know if they had left their houses once it was out of range or if the users attempted to leave their phones at home.

Victor Lam shows the ‘Stay Home Safe’ app which is connected to the tracking wristband. Photo: Winson Wong

A previous version of the wristband, which authorities started giving out last Thursday, did not have a tracking ability and instead relied on the wearers scanning a QR code printed on the band from time to time to report their locations. More than 32,000 of the QR code wristbands had been given out, Lam said.

He said the electronic wristbands would be fitted at the airport, and the authorities would also help travellers to install the mobile app upon arrival. “As the number of arrivals at the airport has decreased in the past two days, we now have the ability to do the installation there.”

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Hong Kong reported an additional 24 cases of Covid-19 on Wednesday, mostly imported, taking the city’s tally to 410. The government banned all foreigners from entering the city starting on Tuesday midnight while the quarantine measures would be extended to all other arrivals, including those from Taiwan and Macau.

Lam said arrivals at the airport from areas other than the US and Europe would still be given the old wristbands, while those crossing the border at Shenzhen Bay or the Hong Kong-Macau-Zhuhai Bridge would be asked to turn on location-sharing services on chat platforms such as WhatsApp or WeChat.

“As many mainland Chinese use Android mobile phones without the Google Play store, it is difficult to install the tracking app, so the location-sharing method is more practical,” Lam said.

Inbound travellers receive electronic wristbands at the Hong Kong International Airport. Photo: Emily Tsang

However, people issued with the earlier wristbands had complained about not being able to activate the mobile app, which would start the tracking process, up to seven days after their arrival.

Among them was retired Briton John Hill, 74, who had not been able to activate the tracker since he arrived from Indonesia last Thursday.

He said he was given the tracking bracelet and a booklet, but was not told that he needed to activate the device, which he only found out after reading the Post. “They didn’t have a clue what they were doing at the airport,” Hill said. “They were the blind leading the blind.”

Currently in quarantine at a hotel in Sai Ying Pun, he had since made three follow-up calls, with no luck. “[The tracking bracelet] is not intrusive but it doesn’t work.”

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Hill also complained that he was not informed about what he should do once the 14 days were up, such as whether he was required to go to a clinic for a check-up.

Another returnee, Yeung, had also been unable to receive the activation code for the tracker since his return from Europe last Friday. Out of his family of three, only his wife managed to receive the activation code successfully, he said on RTHK’s morning radio talk show.

“I called the hotline 24 times, and only managed to get through once. Then they called me to follow up twice, but they still have not fixed the problem,” he said.

A traveller with her DIY protective gear leaving the airport’s arrival hall. Photo: Jonathan Wong

Meanwhile, a second resident, Yau, said while he was able to receive the activation code, he was given an error message which said “user already exists” when he tried to input the code.

Despite the complaints, Lam insisted that the “great majority” of the wristbands had already been activated, and the OGCIO was sending out text messages every night to those who had not yet done so since Monday.

“Of course some of them encountered some problems, the most common is they have not provided the correct phone number which can receive SMSs from us,” he said.

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Lam added that 3,000 people had already activated the wristbands upon receiving the text message reminders on Tuesday night.

The OGCIO had set up two new hotlines, Lam said, including an email and a text message service, and added manpower to troubleshoot issues. Residents could send their names and phone numbers to the email or their names to the text message service to receive help.

“We are confident with the new hotline we will be able to clear most of these outstanding [unactivated] cases,” he said.

Additional reporting by Jasmine Siu

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