China’s three major telecommunication carriers have rolled out a text-based service that allows users to request a list of their locations over the past two weeks as a measure to help people report their recent travel history to the authorities.

Why it matters: The government has launched country-wide traffic control measures in an effort to contain the spread of the Covid-19 virus. Some cities are requiring people to disclose their recent whereabouts to get a pass, data that is difficult for the authorities to verify.

  • Residential areas in some cities have also asked people to show evidence that they haven’t recently been to Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, or Hubei province before they are allowed to enter.

Details: The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT), the country’s telecommunications regulator, has helped China Mobile, China Telecom, and China Unicom roll out a service that allows users to send a text message to their carriers and receive list of cities they have traveled to over the past 14 days, the ministry said in a statement on Tuesday.

  • Text messages users received can be used as legitimate travel itineraries, the ministry said.
  • The service was initially launched on Feb. 13 and had completed more than 50 million inquiries as of Tuesday, five days later.
  • Users need to verify their personal details before they can use the service.

Context: Some people with ID cards issued in Hubei province have had trouble proving their travel details and have thus been unable (in Chinese) to return to their homes in other cities or check in to hotels.

  • Those unable to return to their homes in big cities went online to complain about their experiences.
  • Song Yi, an actress, said in a post on microblogging site Weibo that she was put into quarantine for nearly a month in Shanghai because her national identity card shows her hometown is in Hubei province. The post sparked an outcry and was shared more than 14,000 times on the platform.
  • The government is piloting other measures, including a health rating system app that generates a QR code providing guidance to users about whether they are able to travel freely or must self-quarantine.

Writing about semiconductors and telecommunications.

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