China launches coronavirus app to detect whether users have come in ‘close contact’ with the sick


A woman wearing a protective mask looks at her mobile phone while waiting for transport at Hongqiao high-speed railway station before Lunar New Year in Shanghai, China, Jan. 22, 2020.

Qilai Shen | Bloomberg | Getty Images

China has released a mobile app that tracks people and alerts them if they have been in “close contact with someone infected” with the new coronavirus.

The “close contact detector” was released Saturday night, according to China’s state news agency Xinhua. Users scan a QR code on popular Chinese apps like WeChat and QQ, and submit their name, phone number and government-issued ID number to request information about whether they have been in close contact with anyone infected by the virus.

China’s National Health Commission defines close contact as someone who has been close to someone who is infected or is suspected of being infected, according to the report. It also includes potential cases, the report said, such as family members and caregivers as well as passengers and crew members who have been on the same train or plane as those suspected of being exposed to the virus.

Once users enter their name and ID number, the app will tell them whether they were in close contact with someone infected, the report said, adding that each registered phone number can run the search for three different ID numbers.

If the app determines a user is at risk, the report said they are advised to stay home and get in touch with local health authorities.

It is the latest effort by the Chinese government to use its sprawling surveillance system to contain the new coronavirus outbreak. The virus has now spread from the epicenter of Wuhan in central China to nearly every Chinese province and internationally, infecting more than 40,000 and killing more than 900 people, mostly in China.

The state news report, shared Monday on the website of China’s National Health Commission, does not detail how the app works, but said several government agencies collaborated “to ensure accurate, reliable and authoritative data.”

Both the General Office of the State Council and the National Health Commission played a hand in creating the app, the report said, as well as the state-owned enterprise China Electronics Technology Group Corp., or CETC.

The CETC said it received data from several government agencies to create the app, the report said, including data from the National Health Commission, the Ministry of Transport, China Railway and the Civil Aviation Administration of China.

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