China Electronics Technology Group Corporations (CETC) releases a “close contact detector” platform based on the data provided by the NHC, Ministry of Transport, China Railway, Civil Aviation Administration, etc. to identify individuals that have been in close contact with someone infected. The platform has been integrated into existing popular applications such as Alipay, Wechat, and QQ. To facilitate enquiries, users can access the platform by scanning a QR code, and sign up with a mobile number, providing their names and national identification number. Each mobile number account can inquire about a maximum of three people. The platform is also used by authorities, companies, schools, public spaces and residential areas. As has been widely reported, social control of the local community has played a significant role in enforcing quarantine rules and other guidance.
These measures are part of a general attempt to divert movement flows, decrease the number of crowded places, and minimize social contacts as much as possible. At hospitals, automated machines are installed for medicine and disinfectors. To avoid overcrowding hospitals with false-positive visits, online medical service platforms are made available. Public hospitals and private companies start providing free online consultations, lowering the risk of cross-infection which has considerably aggravated the situation in Wuhan and other cities in Hubei.
In sum, the government is able to have an overview of the situation thanks to the data and analysis provided by both local authorities and companies. At the same time, individuals are offered a means to access their own status using various platforms. The horizontal combination of data allows authorities to easily identify individuals at risk (for instance, who traveled to a high-risk zone or who has been in close contact with someone infected) and conduct screening of this targeted group. These use of data for monitoring purposes follows the the prevention and control plan published by the NHC, which emphasizes the importance of “discovering, reporting, isolating and treating in advance ( 早发现、早报告、早诊断、早隔离、早治疗)”.
As some cities are now gradually resuming work and other activities, new tools of control and monitoring are introduced. Both Tencent and Alibaba have developed their own “Health Code (健康码)” System, which provides users with a QR and color (red, yellow or green) code to prove their eligibility of “free movement”. Another example is the “Itinerary Card (行程卡)” that can be used as a proof of “clean” travel history. Mobile users can obtain their travel history of the past 14 days (domestic and abroad), based on the data gathered by the telecommunication companies. Mobile users are coded red if they have been to Hubei, yellow if they have been to 58 listed foreign countries (constantly updated) and the remaining countries are green. The “Itinerary Card” is valid nationwide.
The massive usage of data (such as the collection, storage, and future whereabouts) to tackle the crisis has sparked privacy concerns. In most cases, the developed platform is government-backed and the legality of usage is supported by official government statements. In other cases, the company claims that data are either anonymized to show a general trend or unassociated with a specific identity. There is strong collaboration between the private and public sector in the control and prevention of the virus.
Closing down and supplying the world
As China flattens the coronavirus curve, a third phase begins. On March 17, 41 medical rescue teams dispatched to Hubei Province, the first epicenter of the outbreak, start their home journey, signaling a certain degree of return to normalcy. What follows is the lifting of travel restriction of Hubei starting from March 25, with Wuhan as the only exception, which ended its lockdown on April 8 while keeping various control and preventive measures in place. On March 19, China reports zero new local cases for the first time since the outbreak. The “zero new local cases” has continued for two more days, broken by the one confirmed case on March 22, but the daily number remains low. On March 28, China reports 45 new confirmed cases, among them, 44 imported. However, the fight against the coronavirus continues. In Wuhan, all medical personnel (over 4000) dispatched by the People’s Liberation Army since January 24 are ordered to remain on the ground until “the complete victory of the battle”.
On March 23, Li Keqiang urges officials not to hide cases in order to keep the reported number low, and requests everyone not to let their guard down as the fight against coronavirus is a long-term fight. During a meeting three days later, he also stresses the need of paying attention to asymptomatic carriers. According to a team of Chinese researchers published by Science, 86 % of cases in Hubei before January 23 went undetected, and only complete lockdown has reduced the transmission rate. Overall, as of April 9, China has reported nearly 81,90782,000 cases and 3336 deaths, of which 3216 in Wuhan and other cities in Hubei. Both figures are debated and there are serious doubts whether China’s statistics of cases and deaths are reliable.
China decides on February 7 to stop including asymptomatic patients in confirmed cases. Classified Chinese government data disclosed by the South China Morning Post estimate that one-third of coronavirus cases may be asymptomatic. Asymptomatic carriers, also known as “silent carriers”, can still transmit the virus to others, and with the resumption of normal life in China, preventive and control measures must remain in place to avoid the resurgence of cases. With the growing public fears over spread caused by asymptomatic patients, China decides to report asymptomatic cases starting from April 1.
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