Chinese city may have used Covid app to block protesters

Since the early days of the pandemic, China has used mobile apps to identify and isolate people who may be spreading Covid. Now, a city in central China may have shown a much more troubling use of this data: arresting would-be protesters.

Dozens of people from across China had traveled to the city of Zhengzhou days ago to protest the freezing of their savings amid an investigation into several regional banks. But when they arrived in the city, many found that the so-called health codes on their phones had changed from green – that is, good – to red, a designation that would prevent them from moving freely. .

Tom Zhang, owner of a textile company in the eastern province of Zhejiang, said it happened to him when he was on a train bound for Zhengzhou on Sunday, when he came from a city where he was not there had been no cases of Covid. Upon arriving in the city, Mr Zhang said, he was stopped by police and told that his code red – usually suggesting infection or close contact – indicated he posed a public health risk. . He said Zhengzhou police detained him at a local library for about 12 hours.

“Code red was definitely used to limit depositors,” Zhang said in a phone interview. “It was utter nonsense.”

Mr Zhang was among a group of hundreds of depositors at several rural banks who had planned to file a complaint with the banking regulator in Henan province on Monday after being unable to withdraw their money for months. (Mr. Zhang said his account contained about $440,000 in savings.) Several other people in this group also told The New York Times that their health codes changed en route to Zhengzhou.

Many petitioners posted their red health codes on Chinese social media sites, suggesting the inexplicable change was no coincidence. Their complaints quickly fueled widespread outrage and sparked a host of questions, even drawing an unusual rebuke from establishment commentators, who questioned whether local authorities had abused their power.

Hu Xijin, former editor of the ruling Communist Party’s Global Times newspaper, warned that using the health code for purposes other than epidemic control “undermines the authority” of the health system. surveillance and undermine public support for it. His post on Weibo, a Twitter-like social media platform, became a top-searched hashtag on Monday earlier this week, attracting 280 million views.

“The health code cannot be abused,” China Comment, a monthly magazine run by the official Xinhua News Agency, wrote in a commentary. The magazine said authorities in Henan needed to explain how the codes changed, who decided to use the codes this way, and what procedures were followed. He also said standards should be strengthened for the use of health codes to guard against their abuse by “voluntary power”.

An employee of the Zhengzhou government hotline responsible for collecting complaints from residents told The Times that the hotline had received many complaints about the abnormal code red and authorities were looking into the complaints. The Henan Provincial Health Commission told Chinese media that it was investigating complaints from depositors about their code reds.

While in police custody, Zhang said, he was told by employees of the banking regulator that investigating the banks could take two years. With few options for recourse, Mr. Zhang said he agreed when police officers from his hometown arrived and offered to escort him out of Henan.

As he was heading to the airport, his health code suddenly turned green.

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Post expires at 6:32pm on Sunday June 26th, 2022