4 December 2023
COVID-19Fact checkMisleading

Misleading: People handcuffed outside hospital are suspected illegal immigrants

The police told Annie Lab that seven men and 15 women were taken to the Pok Oi Hospital for COVID-19 nucleic acid testing recently.

An image of people being handcuffed to their chairs at the temporary holding area outside the Pok Oi Hospital circulated widely on Feb. 17.

Many social media posts implied that COVID-19 patients in Hong Kong are shackled amid reports about long waits outdoors before being admitted to hospitals or isolation facilities, which could last days.

This tweet with the photo in question by human rights advocate Luke de Pulford, for example, has more than 370 likes and 100 retweets. Solomon Yue, vice chairman of the political organization Republicans Overseas, also re-tweeted it and said “Not in America!” in response to another tweet.

This tweet with the same image gained hundreds of retweets and likes. It was shared on Facebook and LIHKG as well.

Those claims are misleading, however. The persons shown in the photo are not ordinary patients.

The Police Public Relations Branch told Annie Lab in an email that the people who were handcuffed were arrested for illegal immigration and were taken to the Pok Oi Hospital for COVID-19 nucleic acid testing.

Seven men and 15 women, all non-ethnic Chinese, were arrested in Yuen Long between Feb. 9 and 16 for illegal immigration, according to the police. Local media HK01 reported that some of them turned themselves in and were not feeling well.

The police said frontline officers could use handcuffs according to the safety instructions and guidelines for handling arrested persons. The spokesperson of the Pok Oi Hospital told Annie Lab that the patients seen in the photo were escorted to the hospital for treatment by the law enforcement unit and the hospital did not ask for the handcuff arrangement, which was also reported by Hong Kong Free Press.

Image search shows that the photo was originally taken by the magazine Ming Pao Weekly and it was posted on its Facebook page called 明周文化 MP Weekly on Feb. 16.

Screenshot of 明周文化 MP Weekly’s Facebook post with the photo

In the original photo story by Ming Pao Weekly, another picture shows a police officer in full personal protective equipment was present next to the detainees. The transparent plastic bags for storing personal belongings with the lettering HKP (Hong Kong Police) could also be seen on the ground in the image.

A series of news photos showing the heavy presence of police officers and people in handcuffs at the same place was also captured by Bloomberg on the previous day, Feb. 15.

The image went viral as Hong Kong suffers from the fifth wave of COVID-19 infections, by far the worst to hit the city. Thousands of COVID-19 cases were recorded in the past few days in Hong Kong including cases among arrested and detained persons.