China bracing for unprecedented wave of Covid just as it dismantles tracking app

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China bracing for unprecedented wave of Covid just as it dismantles tracking app

China has announced plans to scrap its primary Covid tracking app in the latest rollback of pandemic control measures, just days after abruptly abandoning its long-running 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 through the population of 1.4 billion people.

On Tuesday the government-run “communications itinerary card” will be retired, according to an official announcement on Monday. The app tracked people’s movements using mobile phone signals, identifying those who had been in high-risk areas in order to control their travel 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 which often could not be shared with other regions.

Online, residents shared screenshots of their final logins and farewelled the app. “Goodbye itinerary card, concerts here I come,” wrote one person. “The past few years we have witnessed ‘history’ one time after another, and I hope that there will never be a day when it will be used again,” wrote another.

Some expressed concern about the vast amounts of personal data collected by the app and others like it. “I hope there will be mechanisms and measures to log out and delete this,” said one.

The app is the latest tenet of China’s zero-Covid policy to be dismantled. Over the past week testing requirements have been greatly reduced, domestic travel restrictions lifted, and infected people allowed to quarantine at home instead of being sent to specialised facilities.

Beijing authorities said fever clinics at hospitals in the city had received more than 22,000 patients on Sunday, 16 times the number a week ago.

“The current trend of the rapid spread of the epidemic in Beijing still exists,” Li Ang, a spokesperson for the city’s health commission, said at a briefing on Monday. “The number of fever clinic visits and flu-like cases increased significantly, and the number of … emergency calls increased sharply.”

China reported 8,626 domestic Covid infections on Monday. But since mandatory testing was drastically scaled back and test stations dismantled, the official case numbers are no longer considered a reliable measurement. Videos showed long queues 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 a coming surge in cases. Zhong Nanshan said the Omicron variant was “spreading rapidly”, and that one person could infect 22 others.