How China has used QR codes to fight corona viruses

Tram Ho

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It has been a reality for hundreds of millions of people in China since the fight against corona virus has only been half way there – and that reality will continue for the foreseeable future, when this nation once again fought to recover from the war.

Based on mobile technology and big data, the Chinese government has used a color-coded “medical code” system to control people’s steps and limit the spread of corona virus. Quick response codes – abbreviated as QR – are automatically generated, and assigned to citizens to act as an indicator of their health status.

Although the government has not yet considered this health code a mandatory requirement, in many cities, non-application citizens will not be able to leave their residential areas or enter crowded public areas.

After three months, when the virus was virtually under control, and blockade solutions were gradually lifted across China, those tiny square bar codes were maintained and still controlled people’s lives.

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Learning from China, governments in many countries have used similar technology to confront the virus. Last month, Singapore launched a smartphone app that detects contacts, allowing the government to identify people who have been in contact with COVID-19 patients. The Japanese government is also considering deploying similar applications. Moscow also announced a QR code system to track the movement and force all citizens to strictly obey the blockade.

Technology now plays a crucial role in the process of controlling pandemics, ” said Xian-Sheng Hua, a medical AI specialist at Alibaba.

To prevent the spread of viruses, contact detection is a fundamental step and that is why similar initiatives are being implemented in many parts of the world, ” Xian-Sheng said.

How does medical QR codes work?

The Chinese government has chosen the country’s two internet giants – Alibaba and Tencent – to run medical code systems on their popular smartphone applications.

Alibaba’s Alipay mobile payment application and Tencent’s messaging app Wechat are both very popular in China, with hundreds of thousands of users per application. Introducing medical codes into them will make a lot of people more accessible.

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Hangzhou, a coastal city in Eastern Zhejiang Province, where Alibaba is located, was one of the first cities to use medical codes to decide which citizens should be moved to quarantine. This system was implemented on 11/2 on Alipay.

To obtain a health code, citizens must fill out their personal information, including name, identity card or passport number, and phone number, on the registration page. They will then be required to report the travel history, and whether they have been in contact with anyone who has been confirmed or suspected of being infected with Covid-19 within the last 14 days. They must also check the boxes that indicate existing symptoms: Fever, fatigue, dry cough, stuffy nose, runny nose, sore throat, or diarrhea.

After the information has been verified by the authorities, each user will be assigned a red, orange, or green QR code.

Users with a red code must be isolated or self-quarantined for 14 days; users with orange codes will be quarantined for 7 days, while green code users can move freely in the city.

Health codes can also serve as a device to track user activity in public places, because citizens have to scan their QR codes when entering and leaving these areas. Once a case has been confirmed, the authorities will be able to quickly track where the patient has been and identify those who have been in contact with that individual.

One of Alipay’s medical code development team said the system was developed and run by government agencies, and Alipay provided the platform and technical support only.

Besides Alibaba, Tencent has developed a similar QR code system on Wechat, first introduced in early February in the city of Shenzhen, where Tencent is headquartered.

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How widely is it used?

Within a week of its launch, Alipay medical codes were deployed in more than 100 cities across the country.

On February 15, the e-government office of the Chinese State Council directed Alipay to accelerate the development of medical QR codes for nationwide deployment.

A skynet network to prevent pandemics is being deployed on a large scale at Chinese speed, ” Xinhua reported.

By the end of February, there were more than 200 cities in China deploying medical QR codes, according to Alipay.

Tencent’s health code system has also expanded to more than 300 cities as of last month.

On March 1, Beijing released its own three-color version of the QR code, accessible via both Alipay and Wechat. In addition to providing a name and ID number, users must register with the facial recognition system to get the code.

The health code also plays a central role in removing restrictions on the transportation sector in Hubei Province, where about 60 million people were restricted from moving after a blockade in late January.

On March 10, the province released its own health code for citizens who want to travel within the province.

Color coded for citizens based on provincial disease control database: Persons whose diagnostic results have confirmed infection, suspected infection, or asymptomatic cases, or who have a fever , will receive a red code; close contacts will receive a golden code; and those who do not have information in the database will receive the green code – meaning they are healthy and can travel safely.

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The color of the QR code determines the freedom of movement of the people: The green code people are allowed to move freely in the province, the orange code cannot travel, and the red code must accept isolation and treatment.

Every resident and visitor leaving Hubei and Wuhan needs to have a green QR code in their phone.

Inadequate issues

Like all technology products, medical applications are not perfect – they can be wrong and assign the wrong color code to the user, thereby sending the wrong person away.

In Hangzhou, the first city to implement Alipay’s medical code, some citizens complained on social media that they were given a red code by mistake – for example, they checked the “stuffy nose” section. or “tired” on the registration page, but these are symptoms of the common cold and flu.

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A few days after deployment, the Hangzhou authorities said the mayor’s hotline was overloaded with calls from residents with questions surrounding their health code, and had to set up an application. online for those who want to review the code assigned to them.

As the Chinese began to move backward after the blockade was lifted, another problem came up: Not every city and province recognized each other’s medical codes.

Although every QR code has the same 3 colors and is developed by the same company, they are based on different Covid-19 databases created by local governments.

Because these databases are not shared among local governments, and because different governments may have different color assignment standards, some have expressed hesitation in identifying health codes. of other places.

A Hubei citizen Yuan, who had just returned to Guizhou to work in late March after the blockade was lifted, said he had to continue isolation for another 14 days in Guizhou despite receiving the code. green after 14 days of isolation in Hubei. Guizhou does not accept Hubei’s medical code!

To solve the problem, the central government has launched a national “pandemic prevention code”. They also uploaded a national database of confirmed or suspected Covid-19 cases, and their close contacts on a centralized basis, in the hope that local authorities can identify each other’s medical codes through data sharing.

We have implemented the identification and sharing of basic data with each other, ” said Mao Qunan, an official with the National Health Commission.

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There are also privacy issues. The health code is based on government data collected from individuals, including personal information, location, journey history, recent contacts, and health status.

All I care about is whether our personal information is leaked, and whether our privacy is guaranteed ,” said a Weibo user named Han Dongyan.

Zhu Wei, a legal expert at the Chinese University of Political Science and Law, defended the medical code in an interview with Guangming Daily. He said that health codes are standardized in Chinese cybersecurity laws because users are aware that their data is being collected, and that everything is controlled by the government.

Jason Lau, a privacy expert and a professor at Hong Kong Baptist University, said the Chinese government needs to ensure that medical codes meet traditional data privacy principles. For example, the data collected should be ” consistent with the intended purpose “.

He also questioned whether these codes – and any personal information collected – will likely remain after the end of the pandemic.

How do we determine when a pandemic will actually end? For example, if governments and companies are collecting data – who will announce the end of the pandemic, delete the data. , don’t store private data anymore? “- Lau said.

Liu Yuewen, a big data expert who works with police in Yunnan Province, said at a press conference in February that medical code data would be deleted when disease control efforts ended.

No one will be able to see any data without permission from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ” – he said.

Some cities have begun to phase out the use of health codes in certain aspects of their lives.

In Hangzhou, the first place to deploy QR codes, the government announced on March 21 that residents no longer need to show their health codes when going to public places such as train stations, supermarkets, or hotels.

But in many other places, like Beijing and Shanghai, these little square codes still determine where people can and cannot come in everyday life.

Reference: CNN

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Source : Genk