World

In Hong Kong, a mandatory smartphone app draws pushback and mockery.

Hong Kong’s latest “zero Covid” policy — a mandatory smartphone tracking app — is prompting online mockery and pushback.

One mother complained that her 2-year-old had been turned away from a sports center for failing to produce a smartphone with the app. A 63-year-old man said that the only public facility he could visit was the cemetery because he did not own a smartphone. Shops are selling secondhand phones with the app already loaded to cater to the technologically hobbled and those suspicious of government.

Hong Kong has avoided the devastating Covid-19 outbreaks that much of the world experienced over the past year thanks to strict border controls and one of the world’s longest mandatory quarantines.

But some residents, long willing to endure tough pandemic rules, have recently chafed at the restrictions amid low Covid case numbers and widespread vaccine availability. The banking community, one group that rarely speaks out, issued a rare criticism last month.

Others have been frustrated by how Hong Kong has tied its pandemic prevention policies with mainland China’s own rigid approach. Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, has said that opening the border with China was a priority over opening international borders.

A recent rule making the contact tracing app mandatory for those over age 12 and under 65 is turning the focus on those in society who cannot use the app, known as the LeaveHomeSafe app. Residents must show the app to enter any public government facilities — including the city’s outdoor markets, libraries and pools.

One nongovernmental organization warned that the requirement, which started on Nov. 1, would hurt the homeless and others who do not have a smartphone but depend on government services. Others have shared online their experiences of being locked out of basic services.

One photograph that went viral showed an older man with a sandwich board that carried the message: “I am now under quarantine indefinitely.” The 63-year-old said that, with no smartphone, he was prohibited from shopping at the wet market, reading books at the library, swimming at the public pool and even getting sick and going to the hospital. The only place he can go, his message noted, is the cemetery.

The mother of a young child said she had been unable to enter the sports center because she could not show government identification proving that her 2-year-old was under age 12. Others shared similar stories.

Unmoved by the complaints, Ms. Lam told the Hong Kong Economic Times that she was looking into making the app a requirement for more places.

She said she was aware that some people would not be happy with the expansion but, she added, “to a certain degree, the majority rules.”

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