An increasing number of cities around China are requiring commuters to register their identities when using public transport, as the country ramps up efforts to contain the spread of a deadly new flu-like virus.

Why it matters: Real-name registration was previously used for transport between cities. Its expansion to intracity transport is an attempt to track the possible spread of the virus.

  • Nevertheless, such systems enable the government to keep a closer eye on the movements of the country’s citizens, with people voicing concerns that such measures could become permanent.
  • The virus, dubbed Covid-19, was first reported in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late December and has subsequently spread across the country, killing more than 2,200 people.

Details: Commuters in the southern city of Shenzhen and east China’s Ningbo are required to log their identities by scanning a QR code before boarding various kinds of public transport.

  • The system employed in both cities is developed by Tencent and is available through popular messaging app WeChat.
  • Lifestyle services company Meituan-Dianping has developed a similar platform for transport authorities in Shenyang, capital of northeastern China’s Liaoning province, TechNode reported earlier this month.
  • In Shenzhen, commuters taking a bus or hailing a taxi will need to scan a QR code on the vehicle in order to log their trip.
  • Meanwhile, in Ningbo, commuters will be required to use the platform when taking the subway.
  • The first time a user scans one of the codes they will be prompted to confirm their identification details before continuing with their trip.
  • The system also provides warning messages via SMS and WeChat to people who have traveled with someone suspected of being infected.
  • If a passenger is not carrying a mobile phone they will need to complete the process manually by contacting transportation staff or their taxi driver.
  • Collected data are minimal and kept encrypted, Tencent said.

Context: Cities around China have taken stringent measures to curb the spread of the virus while still allowing public transport to run. Transportation in the worst-affected areas has been shut down.

  • Subways around the country have been checking passengers’ body temperatures to stop the spread of the disease.

Chris Udemans

Christopher Udemans is a Shanghai-based data and graphics reporter. He covers Chinese artificial intelligence, mobility, and cybersecurity. You can contact him at chrisudemans [at] technode [dot] com.

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