Sun, 05 Apr 2020

Phone Apps in China Track Coronavirus

Voice of America
22 Feb 2020, 10:05 GMT+10

People in China are using mobile phone apps to follow and, perhaps, help slow the spread of the coronavirus, COVID-19.

Some apps provide up-to-date information about locations with the virus, while others collect data on infected persons.

The Chinese government is working with two of the country's largest technology companies to track the disease. Alibaba Group and Tencent Holdings created color-based systems that record the health of individuals and identify carriers of the coronavirus.

Last week, Alipay, a payment app operated by Alibaba, released a system using colored QR codes that shows the health of people in Hangzhou. A QR code links the user to an internet site with information about a subject.

Users in Hangzhou can use the app to report their official identification number and seek information. Individuals are asked to report recent travel outside the city, as well as symptoms of flu, such as a high body temperature or strong cough.

After completing the questionnaire, users receive a mobile phone message that includes a color-based QR code related to the health condition they described.

Users with a red code are told to quarantine themselves for 14 days and continue reporting their condition by using Alibaba's DingTalk messaging app. Users with a yellow code are told to stay in quarantine for seven days, while those with a green code can travel freely.

Chinese state media said the Alibaba system would be deployed at train stations, along major roads and other travel checkpoints. The system is also being used in some neighborhoods.

Two people living in Hangzhou told Reuters they were asked to show QR codes when entering their apartment buildings. Another individual told the news agency that she was asked to show her QR code before entering the local supermarket.

Alipay said it was working with the government to expand the system nationwide.

Tencent, which operates China's popular messaging app WeChat, reported the launch of a similar QR code-based tracking system. Tencent developed the system with help from China's National Development and Reform Council.

The company said on Saturday the system was in use in Shenzhen. Officials said they expected it to be deployed to other parts of Guangdong province soon.

Even before the latest systems were announced, many Chinese were already using mapping and travel apps to avoid areas with coronavirus infections.

One of the apps, developed by WeChat, uses official reports to identify places in Shenzhen and Guangzhou where coronavirus cases have been confirmed. Data mapping company QuantUrban created a similar system to track nine additional cities in Guangdong province.

One user of the apps told Reuters she finds the maps can provide "psychological comfort." The woman, who did not want her full name reported, said: "You can't guarantee there won't be fresh cases, but you can avoid an area that's already hit."

The technology website Abacus reported that citizens can request location data from their mobile phone carrier to show they had not been in affected areas. The report said that if requested, China's state-owned telecommunication companies will send users a message listing all the areas they had visited within the past 14 days.

Detailed tracking records for mobile users exist in China because the country requires users to register their real names and other personal information when signing up for telecom services.

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