China’s covid QR codes require constant testing and anxiety to stay out of lockdown
Officials are touting the system as an innovative way to do what virtually no other country is yet attempting: eradicate all outbreaks of the fast-evolving omicron variant of the coronavirus. It’s an incredibly expensive campaign to test tens of millions of people daily, and there’s no end in sight.
Chinese university is scene of rare protest against coronavirus lockdown
Do you remember the Tamagotchis? Those digital pets from the 1990s? These codes also require ongoing care and feeding, except you need a negative coronavirus test every one to three days to feed this beast.
Also, if your Tamagotchi dies from neglect, you can restart the game. If you get your coronavirus code wrong, you can’t enter any store or public building and risk being sent to quarantine.
These QR codes were introduced early in the pandemic for contact tracing, but with many cities instituting continuous testing, they are becoming a more intrusive part of life. With the devastation of Shanghai’s total lockdown in mind, officials hope constant testing will help them catch outbreaks sooner.
In the Chinese capital, Beijing, a new term has been coined, tanchuang, or “pop-up window”, in reference to the app’s pop-up warning when you lose your precious green code status. Those who are “windowed” – the noun does double duty as a verb – are locked in offices, supermarkets, taxis, buses and other public spaces until they can clear their status.
“If you skip a day, you have a pop-up problem,” says Erin Chen, 32, who works in Beijing’s Chaoyang district, where daily coronavirus testing became a requirement this month amid ‘an epidemic.
There are different levels of tanchuang. If you’ve only missed one coronavirus test, you can remedy your situation in as little as a day by taking a free test at one of the sidewalk stands a few blocks away in Beijing.
But if you unwittingly wander into a part of town designated as a covid hot zone, you must stay home until a worker comes to test you and you are cleared – which can take days.
“Stay put and await notice for coronavirus testing,” the text message read. “Thank you for your understanding regarding this inconvenience to you.”
The most unlucky souls are considered close contacts of a covid patient, and they are assigned to quarantine centers. On Saturday, around 5,000 residents of a residential complex in Beijing were quarantined for seven days, after 26 cases were found in their community, according to state media.
Authorities have published complex flowcharts in an attempt to elucidate the various routes into tanchuang. But hot zones are declared retroactively, making it impossible to guarantee a safe exit no matter how hard one studies the maps. The lack of clarity is a feature, not a bug: it’s an incentive for everyone to, well, stay home.
This results in an uncommon degree of thoughtfulness before venturing across town for a meeting or to see friends – what if the trip results in your covid code being downgraded?
Shanghai faces mental health crisis as covid lockdown drags on
The inflexible rules of tanchuang gave rise to strange experiences. A Shanghai executive, Ren Junxia, in Beijing as a tourist, ended up with a pop-up on May 4. Her hotel refused to let her in, saying it would put the whole hotel under lock and key. She ended up fleeing to a remote stretch of the Great Wall.
“I have become a wandering soul with nowhere to go in the imperial capital,” she wrote in an online post that went viral.
Ren’s popup disappeared on Day 5, as mysteriously as it came, filling her with joy. “My dear health code, you are normal!!!”
Beijing residents have reported being blinded while crossing the street to shop and even doing nothing in their apartments.
Beijing, Shanghai and other major cities appear to be following the model of Shenzhen, the high-tech hub in southern China, which has managed to avoid new outbreaks thanks to continuous coronavirus testing of its 17.6 million people. inhabitants after a week of confinement in March.
Although Shenzhen is at zero daily coronavirus cases, all public spaces still require a negative test within 72 hours, with some venues setting a shorter 48-hour window. In the evening, long queues at test centers wind through the city.
Klaus Zenkel, president of the European Union Chamber of Commerce for South China and a resident of Shenzhen, said while wait times are short at some testing sites, they can exceed half an hour at others. ‘others.
“These tests take a lot of people’s time,” he said.
According to estimates by Chinese firm Soochow Securities, these tests cost between 50 cents and $1.19 per test, meaning that spending could reach 1.27% of China’s nominal gross domestic product if the 48-hour tests were becoming standardized in large cities.
China’s financial capital, Shanghai, did not need continuous testing before entering a traumatic two-month lockdown in March. As it begins to emerge, Shanghai has announced plans for ‘standardised’ citywide coronavirus testing, aiming to have a site within a 15-minute walk of anywhere in the world. the city.
The arrival of a digital code securing access to public life evokes an earlier project, the Chinese social credit system. Launched in 2014, the Social Credit System has sparked considerable debate over fears it will use ‘big data’ to assess individuals, potentially affecting what they might do and where they might go – recalling a particularly famous episode of the television series “Black”. Shimmer.”
Jeremy Daum, a senior fellow at the Paul Tsai China Center at Yale Law School in Beijing, said the social credit system was widely misunderstood and ended up largely becoming a regulatory mechanism for businesses. As for health codes, he said they differ from social credit in their narrow focus on coronavirus health data.
“It’s looking at a specific data set of your test results and where you are, it seems,” Daum said. “The difference is that people think of the social credit system as analyzing every aspect of your life.”
Still, some residents worry that health codes will endure as a social guardian.
On Monday, Lao Dongyan, a law professor at Tsinghua University, wrote on social media platform Weibo that she was concerned about Beijing’s announcement that public buses would require health code records.
“It also means that the health code can accompany us constantly in our lives, controlling our freedom of movement at all times,” she wrote. “I am very concerned about this, as such measures carry major hidden dangers.”
Authorities said the continued testing program was temporary, but they did not give a timetable for when coronavirus vaccination levels will be high enough to lift controls. While many test sites in Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen are pop-up tents, others are more permanent structures that suggest residents could be in for the long haul.
A Shanghai resident, a 24-year-old woman named Liu who declined to give her full name to discuss local regulations, said a heavy-duty testing booth had just been built outside her compound. housing, equipped with air conditioning.
“Going forward, this 48-hour PCR requirement basically means you have to test every day,” she said. “If you have a gap, your code will turn gray and you won’t be able to go anywhere.”
Wu reported from Taipei, Taiwan. Lyric Li in Seoul and Vic Chiang in Taipei contributed to this report.