China launches coronavirus ‘close contact detector’ in effort to reassure public over health risks
- Close contact detector can be accessed via popular mobile apps including Alipay, WeChat and QQ
- It pays particular attention to public transport records, including trains and flights
In the latest effort to contain the coronavirus epidemic, China has launched a platform for the public to detect if someone has had close contact with a person confirmed or suspected to have been infected in the recent past.
The platform, called a “close contact detector”, uses big data on the movement of people and records from public authorities to see if they have within the last two weeks worked, lived, or travelled with a person confirmed or suspected to have the virus.
It can be accessed via popular mobile apps including Alipay, WeChat and QQ. After having registered with a phone number, users need put in their name and national identity number to track their activity against the movement of known people who are infected to gauge their risk level.
The platform pays particular attention to public transport records, including trains and flights, where booking a seat in China requires the input of ID information.
Any passenger who has sat within three rows to the front and back of a confirmed or suspected virus carrier is judged to be at risk. Flight attendants who provide cabin service are also regarded as being in close contact, while others are classified as having general contact, according to an official news report on Xinhua.
The platform’s database does not cover visits to supermarkets or shopping malls, according to its makers, which was co-launched by the State Council, the National Health Commission and China Electronics Technology Group Corporation.
The platform is likely to raise some data privacy concerns in China though, where mounting surveillance has been questioned by some. A line on the platform’s information page asks users to observe China’s cybersecurity laws and not to abuse private information.
The novel coronavirus, which surfaced in China in December, has sickened more than 42,700 and killed over 1,000 across the country as of late Tuesday.
It can be spread through droplets of water in breath and physical contact, including touching the face after exposure to a surface containing the virus. Being in an enclosed area adds to the possibility of being infected.
Each registered user of the close contact detector can make inquiries for up to three ID numbers, with each ID number limited to one check every day. The platform’s information page shows that there have been over 100 million inquiries already since its launch on Saturday.