Chinese Xi Jinping is pushing for a global Covid QR code. He may have a hard time convincing the world

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China made the widespread use of QR-based health certificates mandatory earlier this year. The system, which uses an electronic barcode to store a person’s travel and health history, has been credited with helping curb the spread of the virus.

The code issues users a color code based on their potential exposure to the novel coronavirus. Colors are like traffic lights – green is the safest, then amber, and finally red.

Speaking at the G20 leaders’ virtual meeting on Saturday, Xi said to ensure the “smooth running” of the global economy during the pandemic, countries need to coordinate a uniform set of policies and standards, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.

“China has proposed a global mechanism for mutual recognition of health certificates based on the results of nucleic acid tests in the form of internationally accepted QR codes. We hope other countries will join this mechanism, ”Xi said.

Xi did not say explicitly what kind of app or QR code system he suggested or who would design and run it.

Several countries have introduced tracking app technology to monitor citizens’ movements and their potential exposure to Covid-19, including Australia, Japan and Singapore, but there is no coordination between the systems and they have had varying degrees of success.

A study by the University of Oxford in April found that even if only 56% of a country’s population used a tracking app, it could severely quell the Covid-19 epidemic.

But coronavirus apps have been hampered by concerns about privacy, especially in Western democracies. Allison Gardner, a lecturer in computer science at Keele University, said people in the UK and France have been reluctant to use coronavirus apps when their personal information is stored externally rather than on their phones.

And given the growing concern in countries around the world over the use of Chinese technology in sensitive industries, there would likely be serious questions about how a coordinated QR system would work with Beijing.

The United States government has pushed its close allies in Europe, North America and the Pacific to ditch Chinese 5G technology provided by communications giant Huawei, while the popular Chinese app TikTok has been banned in India and the United States. United States.

Stuart Hargreaves, associate professor at the Law School of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said that while there was nothing inherently invasive about a QR code, if it was used to store health information sensitive, privacy issues become “particularly important”.

“(For example) what information is stored in the underlying record, how it is generated, where it is stored, who has access to it,” he said.

China is fighting coronavirus with digital QR code.  This is how it works

Hargreaves agreed that once the coronavirus vaccines were available, there would need to be an international “digital health passport” of some variety.

“For travel to approach something like before Covid, some sort of international standard that is easy to obtain, easy to use, secure and protects privacy will be needed,” he said.

The main problem with any international coronavirus application would be maintaining data confidentiality, said Raina MacIntyre, head of the biosafety research program at the Kirby Institute at the University of New South Wales.

MacIntyre has suggested that a central information database run by the World Health Organization or a United Nations agency might be the least controversial way to build a Covid tracking app.

“(But) will individuals consent to another government that is not their own government to access their data? Maybe that’s the price to pay for traveling, ”she said.

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