How China is using tech to continue its streak of zero new coronavirus cases

Investment manager Hanson Hu tweets about the screening and tracking measures for coronavirus in place not just at Shanghai Pudong airport, but also in restaurants and cabs in China.

On February 4, China saw its highest number of domestic new cases of the novel coronavirus, at over 3,800. Today, that number has fallen to zero. But neither the Chinese government nor its people are taking any risks as the COVID-19 outbreak has become a pandemic, and the country could import new cases from flights into the country.

According to a Twitter thread by Hanson Hu, an investment manager at Chinese fund Morningside Venture Capital, stringent measures are in place at the Shanghai Pudong International Airport. He tweets that passengers are not just wearing face masks, but some are also wearing protective eye cover and even hazmat suits.

Earlier, China implemented a system of Health Code on which users could sign up through apps like Alipay or WeChat. The system assigns three colour codes to people based on their travel history, time spent in outbreak hotspots, and potential exposure. Residents are now being allowed to resume work if they have a green health code and a normal body temperature.

Many restaurants, residential apartments, hotels, and other establishments use this colour code to decide whether an individual can be permitted on their premises. The system is also used by the authorities to track people who show coronavirus symptoms.

Even to check in at a hotel, users need to provide details of their travel history. Hanson tweets,

"To enter hotel, must test temperature and leave name & contact. To check in, I need to scan this QR code to fill a form about health status &travel history in past 14 days."

As tweeted by Hanson and others, many taxis in China require users to scan a QR code in order to determine if they are allowed to travel or should be quarantined instead. Drivers often seal off the first row of the car from the rear seats to avoid the spread of infection, if any.

Many Chinese building owners have now reportedly been ordering holographic lift buttons in order to avoid touching surfaces that may harbour the COVID-19 virus. Easpeed Technology, a Chinese new media solution provider, says the device works by projecting the image of buttons in the air, which the users can 'touch'. The company claims that the technology can be fitted to any elevator and has a response time of less than 30 milliseconds. However, the technology is also relatively expensive at $2,000. Others, however, are making use of QR codes to summon the elevator.

Though China has begun to loosen its two-month lockdown, residents from only those compounds deemed virus-free in Wuhan—ground zero of the outbreak—are allowed to leave their homes. Authorities at airports including Guangzhou and Shanghai have said they will begin testing all international arrivals for coronavirus. Currently, the passengers are segregated into high- and low-risk categories.

China has over 81,000 reported cases of coronavirus so far, with the death toll at 3,270. The new epicentre of the pandemic is Europe where many countries including Germany, France and Spain being under lockdown. Italy has been the hardest hit with over 5,400 people reported dead on March 23. In India, the number of cases has risen to 415 on Monday, triggering seven deaths due to COVID-19 complications, according to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

(Edited by Evelyn Ratnakumar)