China announced plans to scrap its main Covid tracking app in the latest reversal of pandemic control measures, just days after abruptly abandoning its longstanding zero Covid policy.
It came as health authorities warned of widespread infections on the horizon and redeployed hundreds of thousands of doctors and nurses to intensive care units in preparation for an Omicron surge. in the population of 1.4 billion people.
On Tuesday, the government-run “communication route map” will be withdrawn, according to an official announcement on Monday. The app follow the movements of people using cellphone signals, identifying those who had been to high-risk areas in order to monitor their movements to other areas.
The national app was a central pillar of the technological infrastructure that guided the government’s Covid response. A plethora of local and provincial apps used health data that often couldn’t be shared with other regions.
Online, residents shared screenshots of their last logins and bid farewell to the app. “Goodbye route map gigs here I come,” one person wrote.
“In recent years we have witnessed ‘history’ time after time, and I hope there will never be a day when it is used again,” wrote another.
Some have expressed concern about the large amounts of personal data collected by the app and others like it. “I hope there will be mechanisms and measures to disconnect and remove this,” said one.
Application is the last principle of China’s zero Covid policy will be dismantled. Over the past week, testing requirements have been drastically reduced, restrictions on domestic travel lifted and infected people allowed to quarantine at home instead of being sent to specialist facilities.
The official number of cases has dropped but is no longer considered a reliable measure since mandatory testing has been drastically reduced and ubiquitous testing stations dismantled. Videos showed long lines of people queuing in Shanghai at the few remaining testing sites left open for people working in vulnerable sectors.
On Sunday, China’s top disease expert warned of an upcoming rise in cases. Zhong Nanshan said the Omicron variant “spreads quickly” and one person could infect 22 others.
Authorities are currently preparing for nearly 300,000 doctors and nurses to be redeployed to intensive care units across the country. China’s healthcare system is concentrated in major cities and along the wealthier east coast. The government has been criticized for not using the Covid zero period to build capacity. Nationally, it has just one intensive care bed per 10,000 people, well below other countries in the region. 3.6
With low vaccination rates among vulnerable older people, the rapid change in rules has caused some fear and concern among the population. There were also widespread reports of shortage of drugs and rapid tests in pharmacies and online.
Ahead of January’s Lunar New Year – the country’s busiest travel time – Zhong urged people to get vaccinated.
“People are very unlikely to be prevented from returning home for the Lunar New Year celebrations in 2023, but it is still important to step up preparations,” he said, according to state media. .
Online, there were concerns among students who are due to take a major exam at the end of December. The postgraduate admissions test requires the expected 5 million participants to travel across the country and gather in large groups.
In his interview, Zhong seemed optimistic to suggest a return to pre-pandemic life in China in a few months.
“I was asked when our lives might get back to where we were in 2019. I think in the first half of next year after March,” he said, according to the South China Morning Post.
“Although I can’t guarantee it, the trend says it should be around this time.”
China’s restrictions for virus containment and control were initially successful against earlier variants of the disease and allowed most Chinese to lead largely normal lives for much of the past three years. But the system was overwhelmed by the increased transmissibility of later variants like Omicron. The government faced unprecedented protests last month against strenuous and frequent closures, as well as other restrictions that had major social and economic effects.
Seemingly in response, many of these restrictions were abruptly dropped. Videos circulating on social media showed abandoned quarantine centers and testing sites littered with the waste of the old policy. State media and health messaging pivoted to emphasize Omicron’s low severity and urge individual responsibility. An official video that shows people removing their face masks in apparent relief has been criticized for suggesting it makes mask-wearing easier just as Covid is starting to spread out of control.
Additional reporting by Chi Hui Lin