Residents say China has used the health tracker for crowd control

TAIPEI – Angry bank customers who went to a city in central China in an attempt to recover their savings from ailing rural banks were stopped by a common technology: a QR code.

The QR code, which residents must have, should show their health status, for example if they have COVID-19 or have been in close contact. In central Henan province, some Chinese have found that the health code was used to enforce crowd control.

The incident sparked a national debate on how a tool designed for public health was appropriate by political forces to quell disputes.

The problem started in April when customers found they couldn’t access online banking. They tried several times to sue the banks and get their money back, but they got no response.

Thousands of people who had opened accounts at one of six rural banks spread across neighboring Henan and Anhui provinces began trying to withdraw their savings after the media reported that the head of the banks’ parent company was on the run. The majority shareholder of many banks, Sun Zhenfu, was wanted by the authorities for “serious financial crimes,” according to the official media The Paper.

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Authorities likely feared a bank run, which is not uncommon with smaller banks in China tending to be less stable than their larger institutional counterparts.

Clients across the country were connected to these rural banks through national financial platforms such as JD Digits. There, small banks sold financial products to customers such as fixed deposit accounts with higher interest rates, which requires people to leave their money for a set amount of time, according to Sixth Tone, the English-language sister publication of. The Paper.

Unable to resolve the problem online, customers decided earlier this week to seek government intervention at the Henan Province China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission office in the provincial capital Zhengzhou. But after arriving in the city, they found they couldn’t get far.

In a canceled account posted on WeChat, a woman named Ai had arrived in Zhengzhou. Shortly after checking in at a hotel, she was questioned by a group of policemen who asked her why she was in Zhengzhou. She answered honestly: to withdraw money from the bank. Shortly thereafter, she discovered that her health code had turned red even though she had a negative COVID-19 test result in the past 48 hours.

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She was immediately taken to a quarantine hotel by a pandemic prevention worker.

Sixth Tone interviewed over a dozen people who discovered their health codes had turned red after scanning a QR code in town.

In China, places like train stations and grocery stores have a QR code that people can scan at the entrance, registering their presence as a contact tracing tool during the pandemic. When a person is considered positive or high risk due to close contact with a COVID-19 positive person, their codes take on different colors that are related to restrictions such as mandatory quarantine.

With a red health code, it’s impossible to go to any public place, or even board a train.

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A bank customer, who gave her surname as Liu, said she saw that many had reported that their health codes had turned red after arriving in Zhengzhou.

Liu, who did not go to Zhengzhou in person, said she tested the code change after others reported it in their shared group chat. After scanning the QR code from a photo someone shared in the group, Liu found that her health code had also turned red.

Another bank customer told Sixth Tone that he received a red code after he scanned it at Zhengzhou Railway Station and was taken into police custody. A few hours after police officers forced him to leave Zhengzhou that evening, his health code turned green.

Jiakedao, a social media account run by the Communist Party’s leading newspaper, criticized Henan authorities in an editorial on Tuesday.

“Let’s be honest, no matter what department or individual instigated it, the arbitrary use of epidemic prevention and control measures for” social governance “or” maintenance of stability “should be strictly held accountable,” reads the editorial. .

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An official from the Henan Pandemic Control Committee said in response to Jiakedao that authorities were investigating reports of health codes turned red.

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