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China's widely used telecommunications big data travel history app, which tracks a user's travel history over a 14-day period, is seen displayed on a smartphone. Photo: Xinmei Shen

China’s Covid-19 tracking app crashes as traffic surges amid fresh coronavirus outbreak

  • The widely used app’s crash on Monday morning caused chaos for commuters in many places across the country
  • The China Academy of Information and Communications Technology said the service resumed nationwide on Monday afternoon
A widely used travel history tracking app jointly developed by the Chinese government and the country’s three mobile network operators crashed on Monday morning, as the country grapples with its most widespread Covid-19 outbreak in months.

Users of the “telecommunications big data travel history” app could not load the program on Monday morning, resulting in chaos for commuters in many places across the country.

“Recently, there has been a surge in the number of inquiries and increased pressure on system services,” China Academy of Information and Communications Technology (CAICT) said in a statement posted on WeChat and Weibo on Monday. It apologised for the inconvenience this has caused to commuters nationwide.
The CAICT, an agency under the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, launched the app in February last year with co-developers China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom.

In a separate statement on Monday afternoon, the CAICT said the app has “basically” resumed service. It had earlier suggested that people access their travel history by sending an inquiry text to their mobile carrier instead of using the app.

A man receives a nucleic acid test for Covid-19 in Nanjing, capital of eastern China's Jiangsu province, on August 2, 2021, as the country experiences its most widespread coronavirus outbreak in months. Photo: Agence France-Presse

The temporary chaos caused by the travel history tracking app’s crash shows how basic personal information collected by authorities has become essential in satisfying the demands of public safety, as the Covid-19 threat persists.

On various domestic social media platforms, many people said they were stuck at hospital entrances and other checkpoints with crowds because users could not load the tracking app.

“I was so nervous because I thought there were problems with my travel history,” one user said on microblogging platform Weibo. “In critical times like this, any small problem can create chaos.”

An irate Weibo user said this breakdown should have never happened to an important online platform. “For this to happen during the pandemic, [the authorities] should be ashamed,” this Weibo user wrote.

The spread of the highly infectious Delta variant of Covid-19 has fuelled an increase in cases across mainland China, with more than 20 cities reporting new infections including the flood-hit city of Zhengzhou in central Henan province. The nationwide caseload is expected to rise this week after the latest outbreak, which originated in the eastern city of Nanjing, has now spread to 26 cities across the country.


Mass Covid-19 testing under way across China amid rising infections fuelled by Delta variant

Mass Covid-19 testing under way across China amid rising infections fuelled by Delta variant

The telecommunications big data app was designed to monitor a user’s travel history over a 14-day period. It tracks people’s location data from the mobile network operator and displays results in one of four colours – green, yellow, orange and red – to indicate a person’s risk of having come in contact with the coronavirus.

It can be downloaded from China’s various app stores as well as accessed through a mini-program on WeChat.
This app is separate from the government-run QR health code app. People travelling in mainland China are sometimes asked to display either the tracking app or health code app, or both, at checkpoints when they enter public venues.