Coronavirus: China launches app to know whether users have come in 'close contact' with the infected
The app will monitor close contacts and alert people if a confirmed or suspected patient is in the vicinity
China has once again put its massive surveillance data to use. But this time, to launch an app that could keep the coronavirus disease or COVID- 19 from spreading. The virus has killed more than 1,350 people and infected over 60,000 people worldwide — 99% of which are concentrated in China.
The app is designed to inform its users of their risk of catching the virus. More specifically, it tells them if they have been near a person who has been confirmed or suspected of having the virus.
"In China, and across Asia, data is not seen as something to be locked down, it's something that can be used. Provided it's done transparently, with consent where needed. From a Chinese perspective, this is a really useful service for people... It's a really powerful tool that shows the power of data being used for good," Hong Kong-based technology lawyer at the law firm DLA Piper Carolyn Bigg told the BBC.
To avail the service, users will have to scan a QR code on their smartphone using apps such as Alipay, WeChat or QQ. After the app is registered with the phone, they are directed to enter their name and ID number. Every registered phone can then be used to check the status of three other ID numbers, Xinhua reported.
The app will monitor close contacts and alert people if a confirmed or suspected patient — with no effective protection — is in the vicinity.
It could find use among people who work closely. For instance, those who share the same classroom or live in the same house or use public transportation, according to the National Health Commission.
All air passengers within three rows of an infected person, as well as cabin staff, are seen as being in close contact, while other passengers would be recorded as having general contact. In air-conditioned trains, those sitting in the same compartment are considered close contacts.
The app was developed by China's General Office of the State Council, the National Health Commission and China Electronics Technology Group Corporations (CETC), with support from other government agencies.