China surveillance plot: Beijing accused of sending COVID-19 health workers to harvest DNA

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The arrival of the seven-strong team marks the first time mainland health officials have assisted Hong Kong in its battle to control the pandemic. The city has reported about 3,500 coronavirus cases and 34 deaths since January, much lower than many other global metropolitan centres.

However, the daily number of new infections has been in three digits for the past 12 days, before dropping to 80 today.

The news has prompted widespread unease in the former British colony.

Lui Man-Kwong, writing on Facebook, said he had been warned by police after visiting the Hospital Authority to ask about the issue.

How to protect privacy and ensure that the data will be destroyed as soon as possible?

Lui Man-Kwong

He added: “Nucleic acid testing can obtain DNA data of the examiner.

“How to protect privacy and ensure that the data will be destroyed as soon as possible?”

Chris Whitehouse, an advisor to campaigning organisation Fight For Freedom Stand with Hong Kong, told “There are three things in play.

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“There is DNA surveillance. There is the PR stunt of China showing how it is helping the people of Hong Kong, just as it has done with capital cities all around the world to pretend that they are going to solve the COVID crisis.

“And thirdly, this is a further demonstrable erosion of one country, two systems.

Once again, China is entering Hong Kong in a way in which it has never done before.”

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Professor Steve Tsang, director of the China Institute and the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London, told of the surveillance claims: “We have so far no evidence that the Chinese authorities will do so.

“But it is understandable that some in HK are concerned about the risk of personal data being made available to Chinese law enforcement agencies and being misused since there is no real protection for such data in China.

“I am not sure that the collection of personal DNA data is intended for political control or such like, but if such a use should become relevant in the future, there is no reason to assume the Chinese state will not use the data available to it.

“It normally does. Not the same as to say that DNA data of HK people are being collected with such use in mind.”

Members of the testing team, coordinated by the Chinese government, are mostly from public hospitals in Guangdong province, China’s National Health Commission said.

Hong Kong’s government has denied the claims, insisting virus testing will only be conducted in the city and samples would not be transported to the mainland.

In June, to widespread criticism in the West, Beijing imposed a security law on the territory to tackle what China defines as secession, subversion and collusion with foreign forces, punishable by up to life in prison.

Hong Kong government leader Carrie Lam confirmed on Saturday she had asked for help from Beijing due to the resurgence in cases.

She said the government was studying whether everyone in Hong Kong could be tested, local broadcaster RTHK reported.

After a surge in locally transmitted coronavirus cases last month, Hong Kong introduced curbs including restricting gatherings to two people and mandating face masks in all outdoor public spaces.

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