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China launches app that alerts citizens if they’ve been near someone infected with the coronavirus

China launches app that alerts citizens if they’ve been near someone infected with the coronavirus
[Photo: Jonas Leupe/Unsplash; Samuel1983/Pixabay]

As the death toll in China continues to climb from the coronavirus, the country’s government has put the cogs behind its massive surveillance tools in motion to try to help slow the spread of the illness. It has launched an app that tells users if they have been in the vicinity of someone who’s been infected with the virus.

The “close contact detector” is a mobile app that Chinese citizens can access by scanning a special QR code in apps like WeChat and QQ, reports CNBC. After the code is scanned, the user will be taken to a form where they can enter their name, phone number, and government-issued ID number. The app will then tell the user if they’ve been in close contact with someone who is infected or is suspected of being infected with the coronavirus.

The app defines “close contact” as people who have been on the same plane or train with an infected person, people who work in the same office or attend school in the same classroom, and people who have been near medical staff or family members who have been around those infected with the virus. If the app alerts the user that they have been in close contact with someone infected, the app will recommend to them that they stay home and get in touch with health authorities.

While the app does have its merits and seems like it could at least help prevent the spread of the illness, it’s also a worrying reminder of just how thoroughly China surveils its citizens—knowing so much about them that they can comfortably say someone has been on the same train or around the same doctor as someone else.

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