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A Chinese City to Implement Permanent “Health Barcode”

Hangzhou, a Chinese city 100 miles southwest of Shanghai, plans to launch a permanent “health barcode,” a system that monitors people’s health real-time and establishes a personalized index based on a number of indicators. Local media report that a score between zero and 100 will be given after reading personal medical records, physical examination results, and lifestyle management data. The program is considered an expansion of the current nationwide health code program, launched in February, to track potential infections and close contacts of the new coronavirus. An official infographic shows individual scores that are presented in different colors. A low score is displayed in purple or red, and the higher scores are in green.

Factors that affect the score include exercises, alcoholic drinking, smoking and sleep. For example, drinking 200 ml of alcohol resulted in a drop of 1.5 points, and smoking 5 cigarettes led to a drop of 3 points. In contrast, walking 15,000 steps earned 5 points.

The city’s health department said it planned to complete the project in May or June, but did not disclose how the personal information would be collected.

The ambitious program, however, did not win public opinion. The news has caused an uproar on social media. A large number of netizens consider the collection of health data a violation of privacy and may also lead to discrimination. Someone commented, “What should I do if I am asked to show the health code when I look for a job?” In a poll on Weibo, 6,020 out of the 7,000 who were questioned chose not to support it.

After the outbreak of the corona virus, every Chinese province began to implement its own health code system. This system is mainly based on China’s two main applications: Tencent’s WeChat and Alibaba’s Alipay. In May this year, the authorities announced a nationwide unified health code system. Chinese media report that the health code requires the users to declare information including their real name, gender, mobile phone number, and address. It also integrates air, railway, highway, and public transportation data, as well as telecom operators and payment data with banks and financial institutions.

Today, in most parts of China, entering and leaving communities and buildings requires that each person show a green-colored health code, an indication of no infection. The system is believed to play an important role in tracking the chain of transmission of the virus. At the same time, the massive collection of personal data has caused widespread concerns about the infringement on privacy.

Source: BBC Chinese, May 26, 2020