A glitch in Hong Kong’s electronic tracking system, designed to ensure people under compulsory quarantine orders stay at home, could potentially allow many to go outside undetected.
Some Hong Kong residents returning from overseas have found they cannot register with the app that is meant to track their movements via their cellphone, meaning authorities have no information on their whereabouts during the mandatory 14-day self-quarantine period.
T.L. Wong, a 19-year-old undergraduate student in Edinburgh, Scotland, came back to Hong Kong on Thursday last week, the day the compulsory isolation measure for all inbound travelers from foreign countries took effect.
He received a wristband with a QR code upon arrival at the airport.
According to the instructions, he should have received a text message with a unique pin for activation of the tracking app once home.
However, Wong, who has not left his home, only received a text message after 24 hours had passed.
When he tried to activate the app by scanning the QR code and inputting the pin, he got an error message.
Wong tried calling the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer, which created the system, but the line was either busy or the person who answered could not provide assistance.
Wong’s friend who flew back with him encountered the same problem.
The office said in an e-mailed statement that a small number of people had been unable to receive text messages because of incomplete or incorrect phone numbers on quarantine-order forms.
The Hong Kong Department of Health plans to follow up on any cases of activation failure, the statement said.
Wong’s wristband is one of about 24,000 tracker bracelets the government has distributed to monitor new arrivals.
The band is meant to connect to an app that sends out alerts asking the person to take pictures of themselves wearing the wristband, and issues warnings if it senses the person had left their place of residence.
The device detects and analyzes radio signals, including Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, as well as geographical location signals when it is activated.
Charmaine Man, a 24-year-old working in film production, is another person affected by the wristband issue.
She has not received any text message since returning to Hong Kong from Malaysia on Saturday last week.
Even though she plans to stay at home for the entire isolation period, she is worried about potential legal risks due to the system’s failure.
“This is a mandatory quarantine, but when I can’t activate the app, will they consider I’m breaking the law?” she said.
Scores of people in Facebook groups have also reported the same problem, while there have been photographs and videos of people taking their quarantine wristbands on public transport.
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