A Chinese official has called for Chinese tech giants including Tencent Holdings and Alibaba Group to develop apps to help control the rapid spread of infection within communities, as China continues to fight against the deadly new coronavirus. “Here I implore the major internet companies, such as Tencent and Alibaba, to develop public community apps for community workers,” Chen Yueliang, an official with the Ministry of Civil Affairs, said in a press conference on Monday, as he introduced measures to restrict and record the movement of residents within communities. “Charitable software is more useful than a 1 billion yuan donation,” Chen said. The comments drew a swift response from both Tencent and Alibaba, who said they were “ready” with tools dedicated to community epidemic control. The official’s comments also drew a mixed reaction on Chinese social media. It became a trending topic on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like social media platform, seen over 18 million times with 25,000 discussions. Coronavirus: WHO faces unprecedented challenge, experts say While some netizens said the comments provided a good opportunity for tech companies to look into the community services space, many more criticised officials for steering clear of their own responsibility. “This is classic [moral] coercion, switching their responsibility to private companies,” said one of the most upvoted comments written by a Weibo user. Others said private companies had already been very generous. “It’s not a company’s duty to donate money and resources. What’s the use of you [officials] if the civilians need to do everything the government is supposed to do?”, a user named “Zhanzhongchunqiu” said. The coronavirus, which has now killed more people in China than the 2003 Sars outbreak, has forced the authorities to put cities under lockdown or quarantine. Beijing and Shanghai on Monday included stricter controls on the movement of residents and vehicles and compulsory mask wearing to control possible community transmission of the virus, following measures in megacities such as Guangzhou and Shenzhen. Chinese internet giant Tencent has introduced a “Haina community digital pass”, a mini app that runs within the ubiquitous multipurpose app WeChat, according to a Tencent statement on Monday. Launched last Saturday, the tool allows residents to verify their identity online, scan a QR code when coming in and out of the community, and document their temperature for the records of community managers. Alibaba Cloud, the cloud computing arm of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, announced a mini app that can record movements in communities and planned to connect the app to smart devices including AI cameras and sticker thermometers in future, according to a post on the company’s official account on social media. Chinese tech companies have also pledged funds and resources to support the country’s medical staff amid the ongoing coronavirus epidemic. Tencent has set up a 1.5 billion yuan fund to support medical supplies, technical support and scientific research, and Alibaba also announced a 1 billion yuan fund to purchase medical supplies from across China and overseas for hospitals in Wuhan. Purchase the China AI Report 2020 brought to you by SCMP Research and enjoy a 20% discount (original price US$400). This 60-page all new intelligence report gives you first-hand insights and analysis into the latest industry developments and intelligence about China AI. Get exclusive access to our webinars for continuous learning, and interact with China AI executives in live Q&A. Offer valid until 31 March 2020.