Has anyone seen your health code lately? · TechNode

As China reopened cities following the Covid-19 epidemic, it relied on “health code” digital systems that divide people into green, yellow, and red based on little understood risk algorithms. Now, as the country moves toward normalcy, local authorities continue to turn the surveillance system off and then on again.

Health code has mostly disappeared in Shanghai and nearby cities. Even Hangzhou, where the system was first deployed, has largely pulled the plug on the labor-intensive network of checkpoints associated with the system.

Meanwhile, other cities are ramping up code use to head off a possible second wave, including some that largely ignored digital quarantine during the initial rollout. 

China offers the world a preview of what writer Tomas Pueyo called the “dance” with Covid-19 that will likely define post-lockdown life until a vaccine is developed. While shops and restaurants have been open across China for weeks, the continuing threat of an outbreak is driving restrictions to ebb and flow.

Shanghai drops codes

The system always varied between places—rather than a nationwide system, the health code is a patchwork of local systems. As China began re-opening, it was common to show one’s code a dozen times per day across the country—entering a market, restaurant, office building, public transport, or returning home all required displaying one’s QR code in many cities.

Shanghai’s implementation of the system was relatively lax. Even at the peak, apartment complexes inhabited by TechNode correspondents checked health codes only once or twice per resident, afterward treating them as non-risks. The system also issued codes without an initial survey of symptoms and travel history, unlike other cities. However, Shanghai office buildings, museums, and bookstores rigorously enforced the system for a few weeks.

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Written by Aakash Malu


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