More than 100 cities in China have adopted the QR code health rating system developed by mobile payment platform Alipay, one version of an app that is expected to be rolled out across the country next week.

Why it matters: The health code system is the quick answer the government was seeking to help contain the spread of the Covid-19 epidemic, though some loopholes remain.

  • The system enables the government to track at-risk individuals and keep a close eye on everyone else as businesses resume operations.
  • The system will also allow more mobility. Some cities have been locked down over the past month, barring visitors or even residents without the proper paperwork. Many have imposed measures such as travel restrictions. Workers all over the country have found themselves stranded in their hometowns, unable to return to work.

Details: Alibaba’s fintech affiliate Alipay said on Wednesday that all cities in eastern Zhejiang, southwestern Sichuan, and southern Hainan provinces have adopted the health code system it developed.

  • The platform, versions of which are developed by Alipay, Tencent, and other tech firms, produces colored QR codes based on user responses to questions about travel over the past 14 days, and whether the individual has traveled to virus-hit areas or has come into contact with infected cases.
  • To determine contact with infected individuals, the government launched an app two weeks ago that allows people to check whether they have been in proximity to an infected case. However, the parameters used to define “proximity” is unclear.
  • To register, individuals provide their name, ID number, phone number, and answer a series of questions including physical health and travel history. Public data is used to verify self-reported information.
  • Residents can now show the QR codes at community or highway checkpoints.
  • Hangzhou, the capital of Zhejiang province, became the first to adopt the QR code system on Feb. 11. According to Ant Financial, 15 million people registered with the system in Zhejiang alone.
  • Sichuan province officially adopted the system on Tuesday.
  • Chongqing municipality launched the health rating system on Wednesday with the help of Alipay and Tencent, according to a government announcement.

Context:  Alipay said on Sunday it is ramping up development of the health code system in time for launch next week.

  • The system generates green, yellow, or red code based on answers to a few basic questions. Individuals with a green code are allowed to move around the city freely, yellow codes require a seven-day quarantine, and red requires a 14-day quarantine.
  • Yellow and red codes can be converted to green after individuals complete quarantine periods with daily check-ins on the app.
  • WeChat owner Tencent also rolled out a similar health code system now being used in Shenzhen that will soon be adopted by more cities in southern Guangdong province.

Nicole Jao is a reporter based in Beijing. She’s passionate about emerging trends, news, and stories of human interest within the world of technology. Connect with her on Twitter or via email: nicole.jao.iting@gmail.com. More by Nicole Jao

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