Smart boost for isolation bracelets

Tracking bracelets with bluetooth function were distributed to travelers returning from Europe and the United States from yesterday, as an increasing number of people were discovered breaching home quarantine conditions. Chief Information Officer Victor Lam Wai-kiu...

Erin Chan and Michael Shum

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Tracking bracelets with bluetooth function were distributed to travelers returning from Europe and the United States from yesterday, as an increasing number of people were discovered breaching home quarantine conditions.

Chief Information Officer Victor Lam Wai-kiu conceded that the old wristbands - handed out in the past week to some 30,000 arrivals - were neither "electronic" nor "smart" and only used using a QR code that could be scanned via a mobile phone app.

He said officials would be none the wiser if people left home without their phones or cut off the bracelets.

"The lack of bluetooth function in the wristbands distributed before meant that we could not track how far the wristband was from the phone, so people could leave their phone at home and go out without triggering the alarm," Lam said.

"But with bracelets equipped with bluetooth function, an alert will be sent to authorities if it is too far from the phone, or if people try to forcefully remove the device from their wrist. This will better monitor those under home quarantine."

A large number of people are now returning to Hong Kong - around 6,000 everyday - so the government does not have enough smart bracelets with bluetooth function to hand out, according to Lam.

The loophole in the monitoring arrangement became significant in the past couple of days when 24 people were caught breaching home quarantine conditions.

Most of them were turned in by fellow diners at eateries or by public transport drivers and other passengers. Some can now be prosecuted in addition to being quarantined at Chun Yeung Estate in Fo Tan.

Lam said there are currently 10,000 electronic bracelets with bluetooth function in stock, and hopefully, a few thousands of them can be distributed everyday starting next week.

"Unfortunately, there are not enough bracelets to be handed out - some would need to be recycled and reused from those who would complete quarantine," he said.

Another problem said Samuel, a student who returned from London on Friday, was that his wristband could not be activated. He said it took a while to reach an officer about the problem.

"The department of health called me [yesterday], and they seemed to be in shock that my wristband still could not be activated," he said.

In response, Lam said there will be two more communication channels to support those under quarantine.

"People can now contact us through e-mail and text message, and our staff will reply within one to two hours," Lam said.