Amid a general rollback of pandemic-control measures including travel restrictions and quarantine enforcement, the Hong Kong government has retired its COVID-19 contact tracing app, LeaveHomeSafe. Previously required to enter restaurants and businesses, LeaveHomeSafe was discontinued on January 8, 2023, following a government announcement. Inbound travel restrictions have also been lifted, as of January 9. 2023.
The end of the LeaveHomeSafe contact tracing system is concurrent with the opening of mainland China’s borders and the end of the mainland’s suite of “zero-COVID” policies. As the mainland Chinese government abandons its regime of frequent testing, contact tracing, movement restrictions, and city-wide lockdowns, thousands of mainland Chinese travelers are crossing the border into Hong Kong, where their travel has been accompanied by a massive wave of infections.
On one hand, the abolition of the LeaveHomeSafe contact tracing system removes a significant data privacy risk for Hong Kong residents and expats. As noted by an HKDC-commissioned independent audit of the LeaveHomeSafe app, the application contained critical security vulnerabilities which left Hong Kongers’ personal data open to hackers or other malicious actors. On the other hand, the rapid lifting of Hong Kong’s restrictions, rolled out at the same time as the end of zero-COVID in mainland China, reflects the degree to which Hong Kong’s autonomy, including the local government’s ability to set its own public health policies, has been eroded.