Neighbors say China used a health tracker to control the crowd

TAIPEI – Angry technology bank customers who traveled to a central Chinese city trying to recover their savings from troubled rural banks were stopped by a common technology: a QR code.

The QR code that residents need to have should display their health status, such as whether they have COVID-19 or have had a close relationship. In the central province of Henan, some Chinese saw the health code being used to enforce public control.

The event has sparked a national debate over how the political forces have adopted the tool designed for public health to suppress the controversy.

The problem began in April, when customers saw that they could not access online banking services. They tried several times to report to the banks and return the money, but were unsuccessful.

Thousands of people who opened an account at one of the six rural banks scattered in neighboring Henan and Anhui provinces began trying to withdraw their savings when the media reported that the head of the main banking company was on the run. The majority of the bank’s majority shareholders, Sun Zhenfu, were wanted by authorities for “serious financial crimes,” according to The Paper’s official media outlet.

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Authorities were probably afraid of a bank flight, which is not uncommon with smaller Chinese banks, which tend to be more stable than their institutional counterparts.

Customers across the country connected to these rural banks through national financial platforms like JD Digits. There, small banks sold customers on financial products such as fixed-deposit accounts with higher interest rates, which means people have to leave their money at a certain time, according to Sixth Tone, the English sister publication of The Paper.

Unable to resolve the issue online, customers began this week in the office of the Bank of China’s Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission in Henan Province, the capital of Zhengzhou province. But when they got to the city, they saw that they could not go far.

In an account that has since been deleted from WeChat, a woman named Ai arrived in Zhengzhou. Shortly after checking into a hotel, a group of police asked him why Zhengzhoun was there. He answered honestly: To get money out of the bank. He soon found that his health code had turned red, despite the negative results of the COVID-19 test in the last 48 hours.

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A pandemic prevention worker immediately took him to a quarantine hotel.

Sixth Tone interviewed more than a dozen people who were seen wearing red health codes after scanning a QR code in the city.

In China, places like train stations and grocery stores have a QR code for people to scan at the entrance, and it records their presence as a tool for tracing contacts during a pandemic. When a person thinks they are positive or at high risk because they have a close relationship with a person with a positive COVID-19, their codes are taken in different colors, which are related to restrictions such as mandatory quarantine.

With the red health code, it is impossible to go to any public place or get on a train.

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A bank customer, who gave her last name as Liu, said many had seen the health codes turn red after arriving in Zhengzhou.

Liu, who did not go to Zhengzhou himself, said he had tried the code change after being notified by others in a shared group chat. After someone scanned the QR code for a photo they shared with the group, Liu also noticed that his health code had turned red.

Another customer of the bank told Sixth Tone that he had obtained a red code after being scanned at the Zhengzhou train station and had been taken into police custody. A few hours after the police left Zhengzhout that afternoon, his health code went green.

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

“Let’s be honest, any department or individual that has been pushed, using arbitrary prevention and control measures for the‘ social governance ’or‘ maintaining stability ’epidemic, should be strictly accountable,” the editorial reads.

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An official with the Henan Pandemic Control Committee responded in response to Jiakedao that authorities were investigating reports that the health codes were in red.

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