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While cities and provinces throughout China slowly relax coronavirus lockdown measures, authorities have implemented smartphone software to monitor citizens' health, and dictate where they are and aren't allowed to go, reports Business Insider.
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Chinese authorities lift coronavirus restrictions
Cities and provinces across China are slowly rolling back coronavirus quarantine measures, and authorities have assigned smartphone software to monitor citizens' health and locations. In Wuhan — where the coronavirus outbreak began — officials are using the software to track and limit the movement of citizens, reports the BBC. Wuhan's lockdown measures were lifted on Wednesday, midnight local time.
The software is installed in the online payment platform of Alibaba's called Alipay, and the instant-messaging app WeChat. Nearly everyone who owns a smartphone in China has one or both apps.
Before they can travel, citizens must first fill out a quick health survey. Once completed, the software assigns a health code — green, yellow, or red — which determines whether they can leave their home, and also where they are allowed to go.
China's tracking initiative to curb COVID-19
The new initiative was initially introduced by officials in the eastern city called Hangzhou, reports Business Insider. Since then, others have followed their example. On Feb. 25, the program was active in 200 Chinese cities. The number of cities has likely grown since then.
As of late 2019, WeChat and Weixin — the app's Chinese variant — had 1.16 billion monthly active users. Alipay has roughly 900 million users throughout China, according to The New York Times.
This is significant because it means that while apps are supplying the democratizing force to health programs, it's coming at the expense of local governments creating uncomfortably intimate databases via which they can limit citizens' lives.
As the coronavirus pandemic sweeps across the world, it's up to nonprofits, private companies, and individual ingenuity to pool resources and work to curb the spread of the novel virus. Be sure to check out our main coronavirus page, for a quick summary of the global struggle against the deadly disease.