Mobile Applications

China Asks Tech Firms For Apps To Track Health, Travel Amid Outbreak

Chinese tech firms are helping the government enact a new “health rating” system that will track millions of citizens preparing to return to work in factories within China amid the coronavirus outbreak that has gone on since early this year, The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported.

The government, under immense pressure to return the economy to normal, worked with tech firms Alibaba and Ant Financial to create an app that will classify people’s levels of health in Hangzhou. Gaming and social media company Tencent has also created a similar program for the people of Shenzhen, in the southern region of the country.

In Hangzhou, people who use the app are prompted to enter their personal information, then self-report their own conditions — given a list of options from which to choose, inquiring if they’ve experienced coughing or fever, or have not experienced anything. They are asked if they’ve traveled over the past two weeks, or if they’ve come into contact with the virus at all.

People will be separated into three categories, based on their health: green, yellow or red. Green will give one full clearance to move about as needed, with a QR code to present at checkpoints and prove their health. Staff will check the codes personally, and take people’s temperatures at checkpoints, including subways, office buildings, malls and other typically crowded areas.

Those with a yellow code must isolate themselves for seven days, whereas those with a red code must be isolated for two weeks.

The app will help China’s government see which people are planning to return to work. It has attracted controversy, though, as some citizens have been inconvenienced by the quarantines. One man, quoted in the WSJ, said he had received a “red” designation, despite not knowing how this was determined.

EcoHealth Alliance President Peter Daszak said the system’s possibility for penalty could lead to some users lying about their answers, including those who know they’ve been exposed to the virus.

Indeed, the Hangzhou government found that 16 people had lied about their information, calling them out on a social media post, and saying their statuses would be switched immediately to red. By Feb. 14, there were more than 1,000 people found to have lied about their exposure to the virus.

The coronavirus has been deadly in China, with more than 72,000 infected and nearly 2,000 dead. In a survey of businesses, 78 percent interviewed said they didn’t have a full staff due to the virus. Globally, many companies have worried about slowing productions due to travel restrictions and other complications.

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