Residents wearing face masks walk to a clinic designated for COVID vaccination in Hong Kong, March 22, 2022. (PHOTO / XINHUA)

Hong Kong police arrested three more doctors on Thursday morning on suspicion of issuing COVID-19 vaccination-exemption certificates without proper medical justification.

Briefing media outlets on Thursday afternoon, the Hong Kong Police Force said they raided the clinics of the three doctors, in Chai Wan, Yuen Long and Tin Shui Wai. 

Police also arrested eight people on Thursday on suspicion of buying fake vaccination-exemption certificates from a clinic in Yau Ma Tei 

Based on searches at the clinics, police said they suspected that the doctor practicing in Chai Wai may have issued over 6,600 vaccination-exemption certificates from February to June and charged HK$3,000 ($382) for each certificate, while the two other doctors are suspected of having given out over 1,300 certificates separately from February to September, with each costing between HK$350 and HK$700, paid as clinic fees.

The HKPF will consult medical experts as part of their investigation into whether these doctors have abused their power to issue excess vaccination-exemption certificates, a police spokesperson said.

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Police also arrested eight people on Thursday on suspicion of buying fake vaccination-exemption certificates from a clinic in Yau Ma Tei. The clinic’s owner, a 76-year-old private doctor, and his three assistants were arrested on Tuesday for allegedly providing fake certificates.

Doctors who give out vaccination-exemption certificates without proper medical consultations and people who try to obtain a certificate by fraudulent means could be charged with conspiracy to defraud, which carries a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison, the Force said. 

Thursday’s arrests brings to five the number of doctors who were recently arrested on suspicion of issuing fake certificates.

The health chief and the medical community on Thursday blasted such behavior by some doctors. 

Secretary for Health Lo Chung-mau said it was “extremely disappointing” to learn that fake vaccination-exemption certificates were issued, adding that medical practitioners should strictly adhere to the code of professional conduct to maintain the public’s trust.

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Lo said the Medical Council of Hong Kong will also follow up on these cases if necessary.

On Thursday afternoon, several groups and heavyweights from the medical sector, including lawmaker David Lam Tzit-yuen and Executive Council member Ko Wing-man, jointly issued a statement to denounce the arrested doctors’ alleged behavior.

They said the acts of which the doctors are accused are serious violations of the professional code and responsibilities of medical practitioners. Doctors involved should not be allowed to practice medicine if convicted, according to the statement.

They also called on the public to get fully inoculated as soon as possible, as boosting the vaccination rate is the most important way to curb the pandemic. It also would lay a solid foundation for lifting travel restrictions and bringing society back to normal.

In a social media post published on Wednesday, Chief Secretary for Administration Eric Chan Kwok-ki condemned doctors who try to profit from issuing vaccination-exemption certificates, saying their “unethical” actions could bring drastic consequences to the city’s anti-pandemic work and hinder efforts to restore normalcy to Hong Kong.

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Chan said such behavior places personal gain before the overall interests of society and would no doubt aid the spread of the virus in the community. Chan said he has asked law enforcement agencies to stringently follow up on those using such fake certificates to the detriment of society.

According to guidelines issued by the Department of Health, doctors may provide exemption certificates only to people who are deemed unfit to receive COVID-19 vaccines based on clinical assessments.