PALO ALTO, U.S. -- Hong Kong's government has ordered all residents returning from mainland China's Hubei Province -- the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak -- to be quarantined at home and wear tracking wristbands.
Violators will be subject to a fine of 5,000 Hong Kong dollars ($645) and up to six months' jail time, the authorities announced Monday.
The tracking device designed for the coronavirus outbreak was revealed at a news conference held by Hong Kong's Health Department and its Information Office on Monday. The wristband-like devices should be carried or worn at all times by those quarantined at home, officials said.
The wristband will be connected to a specially-made smartphone provided by the government which must be plugged into an outlet at home. If the wristband is detected more than 20 to 30 meters away from the phone, or if either device is broken, an alert will be sent to the police and health department, Chief Information Officer Victor Lam told the news conference.
Hong Kong residents who had traveled to Hubei in the past 14 days without symptoms or close contact with cases would be required to stay at home, with the quarantine period lasting two weeks, the authorities said Monday.
Thirty Hong Kong families that recently returned from Hubei will be the first to use the wristbands. The names of the families' residential buildings will be posted on the Health Department's website, but officials said the public should be aware that people quarantined at home are low-risk cases, and are neither patients nor suspected patients.
As of Monday, Hong Kong has 15 confirmed coronavirus cases.
The government said 500 electronic wristbands are ready for use for quarantine purposes, and an additional 1,000 could be added within two weeks if needed.
Personal information including mobile phone numbers will be collected from the quarantined residents and authorities will first try to reach users on their mobile phones if anyone leaves their home, according to Lam.
Officials said the tracking device is compliant with Hong Kong regulations and stressed the privacy of all users will be respected. The wristbands themselves will not be equipped with GPS technology, because those who are being home-quarantined are "not criminals," Lam added.
Similar measures were taken by Singapore during the SARS outbreak in 2003. The city-state made home quarantine a legal requirement by enacting the Home Quarantine Order in March 2003. The authorities monitored all home-quarantined residents through webcam and wristband during the outbreak and warned that those who break the quarantine would face a fine of 10,000 Singapore dollars ($7,300 at current rates) and six months' jail time, according to media reports at the time.
Hospital workers in Hong Kong went on strike starting Monday to pressure the city into sealing the border with mainland China as a step against the new coronavirus. Hong Kong's government said Monday that it will close 10 of the 13 border crossing points effective Tuesday.