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Perspective: Living With The QR Code In Beijing

15/08/2022 10:37 AM

By Hasnah Jusid

BEIJING (Bernama) – It is still not easy to “penetrate” this sprawling metropolis – which has a population almost equivalent to Malaysia’s – even though over two years have passed since the COVID-19 pandemic struck the world.

While most countries have already eased travel restrictions imposed in 2020 to stem the spread of COVID-19, China has yet to reopen its borders to international travellers. At present, only Chinese citizens and foreign nationals with valid residency permits and several types of special passes are allowed into China.

Currently in Beijing for the five-month-long China-Asia Pacific Press Centre 2022 programme at the invitation of the China Public Diplomacy Association, this writer, fortunately, managed to ace the pre-departure COVID-19 tests and other stringent procedures imposed by the Chinese authorities.


Having undergone a seven-day quarantine earlier in Nanchang in Jianxi province, about 1,400 kilometres from here, upon my arrival at the Nanchang Changbei International Airport on July 17, I’m now busy familiarising myself with the ‘new normal’ set by the Chinese government in line with its zero-COVID-19 policy.

As one of the nations with the strictest standard operating procedures in place to manage the pandemic, the world’s second-largest economy has made almost full use of sophisticated technology to create its national health QR code system that uses tracking mechanisms through mobile phones and social media applications to track people’s movements to help curb the spread of the coronavirus which was first detected in Wuhan in Hubei province at end-2019.

At the airport in Nanchang, I was asked to enter my personal details in an online form which then generated a quick response code or QR code for self-identification. 

It was while undergoing the mandatory seven-day quarantine that I realised the importance of the QR code in my daily affairs during my stay in China. 

 

COVID-19 TESTS A WAY OF LIFE  

After completing my quarantine, I left for Beijing on July 28 to participate in the China-Asia Pacific Press Centre 2022 programme. I was also instructed to take an RT-PCR test at least once every two or three days to confirm that I am truly free of the virus.

Initially, I expected the tests to be a costly as well as time- and energy-consuming process but I was pleasantly proven wrong. I found out soon enough that the COVID-19 tests were provided free of charge at the 5,000-odd kiosks or stations the government has set up all over the capital city, even in housing areas. The locations of these stations can be easily found via Baidu, China’s dominant Internet search engine, which also provides information such as their operating hours and distance from one’s current location.   

The easy accessibility is China’s way of making COVID-19 testing a routine activity for the public. I couldn’t help but notice that this initiative of the republic had the full support of the people who would queue up to wait for their turn to be swabbed. 


According to local media reports, the COVID-19 testing stations, which have also mushroomed in the rest of the country, can process up to 51.65 million samples a day.

To get tested at one of these kiosks, all one has to do is show their QR code to one of the staff on duty for verification of identity. Next, a throat swab is taken. It is all over within a minute without any physical contact involved. The result is updated in the Beijing Health Kit system, which is similar to Malaysia’s MySejahtera application.

Foreigners residing in Beijing must also be registered with the Beijing Health Kit which, among others, keeps a record of their vaccination status, physical movements and self-identification QR code.

It is crucial to get the RT-PCR tests done every two or three days because only those who have been confirmed free of COVID-19 over the past 72 or 48 hours are allowed into public places such as shopping centres, recreational parks, public transport and offices.

 

DIFFERENT CODES FOR EACH PROVINCE

China’s three-colour (red, yellow and green) health code system was introduced in 2020 to restrict the people’s movements in accordance with their COVID-19 status and possible health risks.

Only those with a green code are allowed to move freely. A red or yellow code indicates the need for isolation, a concept which is similar to MySejahtera’s.

However, China does not have a uniform health code system nationwide as each province has its own code. Visitors, therefore, have to register themselves in a separate “mini-programme” available on a WeChat application to get a green QR code each time they go to a different province.


I myself went through this experience recently when the programme participants were taken on a six-day trip to Shandong province on China’s eastern coast. Fortunately, it was a speedy process, requiring only a few clicks to register on the mini-programme. But I was told that in other provinces the process of getting a green code can take up to 24 hours.

As in Beijing, in Shandong too I had to scan the QR code each time I used public transport or visited a public place. Then, there are the dozens of online documents that had to be downloaded and filled out. Not surprisingly, the need to get the local health code each time they visit a different province has caused visitors to get stuck for hours at transport hubs including airports.

They may seem troublesome but I personally feel that the measures implemented by China to stem the spread of COVID-19 have proven effective as new infections reported daily are within the three-digit range, with the majority of the cases occurring in Hainan province as of Aug 11.

 

(The writer, Hasnah Jusid, is currently in Beijing for the five-month-long China-Asia Pacific Press Centre 2022 programme at the invitation of the China Public Diplomacy Association. The programme, which started on June 20, will go on until the middle of November.

(Over 70 media practitioners from various countries are participating in the programme, which is organised by the China International Press Communication Centre. The programme includes lectures on socioeconomic development, diplomacy, culture, and science and technology, as well as journalism training sessions and practical training stints with the Chinese media and visits to selected provinces.)

 

Translated by Rema Nambiar

 

 

 


 


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