Hong Kong’s government broke the law when it invalidated thousands of certificates exempting people from coronavirus vaccinations, a court ruled Friday, in a rare rebuke of the city’s strict pandemic controls.
Coronavirus shots are not mandatory in Hong Kong, but the Chinese city is using a QR health code system that denies unvaccinated people access to many public buildings.
Police have accused seven doctors of granting fraudulent waivers in recent months in a city where hesitancy over the coronavirus vaccine has been expressed, especially among the elderly.
After the medics were arrested, local authorities announced that some 20,000 exemption certificates would be invalidated.
But Supreme Court Justice Russell Coleman ruled that such a move was not supported by Hong Kong’s public health laws.
“A minister gets his or her legal powers from legislation — not from an announcement in a press release,” Judge Coleman wrote Friday.
The Hong Kong government — elected in a severely restricted poll — has used emergency powers to pass some of the world’s toughest pandemic rules. These include the mandatory wearing of masks and a ban on large outdoor gatherings – which remain in effect to this day.
The emergency legislation set out how exemption certificates work, but offered no solution when the validity of the document was disputed, the judge said.
Health Minister Lo Chung-mau said he would respond to the ruling after reviewing it with the Ministry of Justice.
The legal battle against the annulment was started by Kwok Cheuk-kin, a resident known as the “king of judicial reviews” who often uses the courts to scrutinize government policies.
Government attorneys had argued that it was necessary to destroy “dubious” certificates to reduce infection risks, adding that people could still get replacements if they qualified.
They also said unvaccinated residents could continue their business and buy takeaway, for example, instead of going to restaurants.
The percentage of fully vaccinated Hong Kong is around 90 percent. But more than 360,000 people over the age of 60 – the demographic most at risk of dying – remain unvaccinated.
Authorities have arrested at least 26 people, including five government employees, for allegedly using incorrectly issued waiver documents.
Originally published when Hong Kong broke the law by cracking down on vaccine waivers: court