Hong Kong tags quarantined residents with wristbands, to monitor via smartphones

  • Government of Hong Kong unveils electronic tagging device at a press briefing

  • All those who travelled to Wuhan in Hubei, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, to be restrained to home quarantine for 14 days

  • The tagging device is paired with quarantined individual's smartphone through Bluetooth Low Energy technology (BLE)

The Government of Hong Kong has announced that it will distribute 500 electronic monitoring tags to people in Hong Kong who have been quarantined at home following their return to the city after spending time in the Hubei Province in mainland China, which is also the epicenter of the deadly coronavirus outbreak.

Victor Lam, chief information officer of the government presented the electronic tagging device, or smart wristband and said that all residents of the city who had travelled to the mainland province in the last two weeks must submit to a home quarantine of 14 days. The device is aimed towards ensuring strict compliance with the quarantine.

He also announced that individuals found guilty of violating the mandatory quarantine may face up to six months in prison and a fine of HK$5,000 (US$644).

Victor Lam
Victor Lam at the press briefing Youtube screengarb/RTHK

How does the tag work?

It is paired with a quarantined individual's smartphone through Bluetooth Low Energy technology (BLE). Also, the device is linked to the mains of the individual's house. Tampering with tag would not be a wise idea. If the distance between the phone and the tag exceeds 20 meters, or if the wearer unplugs his or her phone and exits the quarantine zone with the tag on them, relevant authorities will receive an alert.

"If the smartphone is disconnected, then an alert will be immediately sent to the Department of Health and the police for follow-up. And if the wrist band is broken, an alert will be sent," Lam told the media.

Does not collect personal information

Due to concerns regarding the privacy of the quarantined, Lam said that no personal data will be gathered by the device. Additionally, the smart band is not equipped with a GPS tracker. Responding to a question about tracking individuals who abscond, Lam said that attempts to contact the individual through their phones will be made first.

A man covers his face as he walks to work in Delhi
Representational Picture Reuters

While 500 tags are available for immediate distribution, if necessary, another thousand can be made available within two weeks he said.

An increasing number of cases and medical strike

The new quarantine measure comes at a time where the number of reported cases in the special administrative region has risen to 21. Earlier this week, Hong Kong reported its first death due to the coronavirus, making it the second death outside China. Following this, medical workers across the city have gone on a strike, demanding the closure of all entry points to the city from the mainland. Adding to the woes of the city is a docked cruise ship carrying over 1,800 passengers, where 18 are suspected to be infected.

Chui Tak-yi, Undersecretary for Health, who was also present at the briefing confirmed that most of the 97 places within the three present quarantine camps have reached their full occupancy, with officials scouting for new locations. He also added that there has been stiff resistance from residents in the areas surrounding proposed locations.

Related topics : Coronavirus