Yunnan province plan to contain coronavirus by tracking residents in public places comes under question

In the latest effort to use big data to help contain the coronavirus outbreak, a province in southwestern China is asking residents to scan a code when they enter public places, sparking debate over whether the measure is effective.

Starting Wednesday, authorities in Yunnan province require all residents to scan the code through a WeChat mini-program when they enter and leave all public places to trace those who have had close contact with anybody confirmed or suspected to have been infected.

The move has sparked criticism on social media as to the effectiveness of such a screening process, especially since not everyone owns a smartphone with the required app. A Weibo post by state media seeking public opinion on the plan received a mixed response, with some indicating support but many others commenting “I disagree.”

“There are still many elderly people who do not use smartphones,” said one Weibo user. “Once implemented, there will no doubt be congestion and queues in public places [to scan the code]. The risk of infection will be higher,” said another.

The latest move in Yunnan province is in line with the country’s efforts to contain the outbreak. Earlier this week China’s State Council backed the launch of a “close contact detector” platform with a similar purpose, based on information gathered from public transport records, including trains and flights.

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The coronavirus, which is now officially called Covid-19, has spread to at least 24 countries, sickening more than 60,000 people worldwide. There have been more than 48,000 confirmed coronavirus cases in China’s Hubei province resulting in more than 1,300 deaths, although Yunnan province had only recorded 155 infections, according to figures reported on Thursday.

The mini-program, whose name roughly translates as “Fight the coronavirus in Yunnan”, requires users to enter their phone number and receive a verification code to register. After that, they scan the “in” and “out” code when visiting public places such as airports, railway stations, subways, bus terminals, shopping malls, supermarkets, residential areas, as well as hospitals and pharmacies.

The mini-program does not ask users to enter their name and national identity numbers.

Some residents have indicated support for the Yunnan government’s effort to trace people’s movements as a way to limit the spread of the virus. “We’ve been very cooperative because we really want to get this outbreak under control,” a Yunnan resident surnamed Gao, who declined to give her full name, told the Post.

In the city of Hangzhou, capital of Zhejiang province, authorities have implemented a “health code” which asks residents to use a web-based program to report their health status when returning home. Only those with a “green” code can enter the city, while those with “red” must undergo a 14 day quarantine and those with a “yellow” code need seven days of quarantine.

On Thursday, Zhejiang reported 1,145 confirmed coronavirus cases.

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