QR Codes, Health Passports: China’s Tech Arsenal Against Pandemic

Now the country is launching a digital “health passports” for its 1.4 billion population which it hopes will eventually restart international travel.

Daily life in China follows a rhythm of digital check-ins, with the QR code — at offices, malls and transport hubs — an integral defence against COVID-19.

Now the country is launching a digital “health passports” for its 1.4 billion population which it hopes will eventually restart international travel.

Here’s how technology has spearheaded the fight against the pandemic.

Health codes

China has established a nationwide system of digital “health codes,” scoring citizens on whether they pose a potential coronavirus threat based around their travel history and proximity to people with the virus.

Users have to scan a QR code to get a “green” pass in the health app, a common practice at most offices, restaurants, shopping malls, sports centers and transport stations.

The system is linked with the user’s ID and phone number, and is used to assess their health risk and display the results of any recent COVID-19 tests or vaccines.

The nationwide app gathers geolocation data provided by phone operators, while other regional ones link to train and plane tickets, identity checks or screening tests.

The digital health certificate extends that system by showing the holder’s vaccine status and virus test results.

In China, it has become almost impossible to move around without a health code.

Airlines require it before boarding a domestic flight and a clean health code is needed to enter a train station. In Beijing, taxis ask passengers to “check in” using the app before making a journey.

Last spring, local media reported the case of a criminal who had been on the run for two decades, but ended up surrendering himself to the authorities after the health app had made it impossible for him to enter a store, get employment or move around without being detected.

A Chinese model?

With its experience in managing the epidemic, China is pushing for the adoption of a universal health code at the global level: a health passport to open borders.

The initiative was also proposed in November 2020 at the G20 summit by President Xi Jinping.

Although the new certificate is meant for travel in and out of China, it is currently only available for use by Chinese citizens and it is not yet mandatory.

Originally published at Shine

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