Health codes could remain in China after the pandemic

A proposal from the government of Hangzhou, a city of over 10 million residents in China and home to Alibaba, could retain health codes after the pandemic to assess lifestyle habits like exercising and medical checkups.

Several apps in China can determine how at-risk you are of having COVID-19 through a simple signup process, assigning you a green-, yellow-, or red-coloured QR code. The colours indicate whether you are free to enter public spaces such as malls, office buildings, and bars, or whether you should quarantine for seven or 14 days.

In a meeting held by the Hangzhou Municipal Health Commission, local officials proposed that the scheme could be extending after the pandemic, using data from medical records and physical examinations, as well as data on how much a person drinks, smokes, and exercises.

Hangzhou’s design for a new health code system using a colour gradient that correlates with a score from 1 to 100. Credit: Hangzhou Municipal Health Commission

In the image above, the demo suggests that a user could get 5 points for walking 15,000 steeps in a day and 1 point for getting a minimum of 7.5 hours sleep. It also suggests you would lose 1.5 points for drinking 200ml of baijiu, a popular Chinese spirit, and lose 3 points for smoking five cigarettes. The demo even includes a city ranking – this user is the 2,880th healthiest in the city.

The meeting where the proposal was made was held following an order to “advance the long-term operation” of the Hangzhou health code. The plan also includes different health codes for companies and neighbourhoods.

When news of the proposal broke, responses were overwhelmingly negative on Q&A platform Zhihu and social media platform Weibo, where it became the second-highest trending topic at one point. Users expressed it was an unnecessary invasion of privacy and worried it could be used for job applications and insurance plans. In a poll on Weibo, 86% of some 6,600 users voted against the proposal.

Many are wondering whether extra surveillance measures brought in to fight COVID-19 will remain after the pandemic. The proposal from Hangzhou shows how contact tracing apps could be modified to support new health surveillance systems. There are no reports as to whether other cities or regions in China are also considering such initiatives.

Parts adapted from: Abacus

Read more: The Apple-Google tracking system is being dubbed the “American Health Code” in China. Here’s why that comparison is misleading

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