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China turns to QR codes to help contain coronavirus outbreak

By Hugh Wilson

Barcodes on mobile phones being used to enforce quarantine measures

China is using QR codes to help track the spread of coronavirus in severely affected regions, according to Chinese media.

Residents of the cities of Wuhan – where the outbreak began – and Hangzhou are the first to be assigned a QR code based on answers to an online questionnaire. The form asks if they have any symptoms that might suggest they have the illness and whether they have travelled outside the cities recently.

Users are then sent a coloured QR code to their mobile phones that represents their likely health status and can be scanned at travel checkpoints and public places.

A red code means users should stay quarantined for 14 days, while those receiving a yellow code should stay in for seven days. Green code users can go out and travel freely.

The system has been developed by Alipay, the payment app of online retail giant Alibaba, in collaboration with the Chinese government. Alipay has announced plans to take the system nationwide.

While initially intended for use at transport hubs, reports suggest the system is being used more widely. Citizens are being asked to scan the code before being allowed into supermarkets, restaurants and apartment blocks.

A separate QR-based system has been developed by Tencent, makers of messaging app WeChat, and is currently being implemented in the city of Shenzhen.

The total confirmed number of coronavirus cases in China stood at 70,548 on Monday, February 17, with 1,770 fatalities.

The new measures come two weeks after China's top leadership admitted "shortcomings and deficiencies" in the country's response to the outbreak.

FURTHER READING: Coronavirus prompts OPEC to cut forecast for 2020 oil demand growth

FURTHER READING: Alibaba stock price prediction for 2020 and beyond

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