And for the more than 20 million people who live in or visit the capital, Beijing, there is an additional concern: A popup that can randomly appear on your phone to ruin all your plans.
Starting in 2020, China rolled out a contact-tracing program that assigns everyone across the country a QR code. It shows your coronavirus status and allows you to enter public places or take public transportation. The system has persisted as part of China’s strict zero-coronavirus policy, and some features once praised for keeping the country’s death toll relatively low now feel more burdensome than beneficial to its citizens. (Most covid applications in other countries have been suspended. we recorded all of these Back in 2020. )
Pop-ups Pop-ups are a layer of complexity that Beijing has added to its tracking system. This window in the mobile covid application does not disappear unless the user immediately takes a PCR test. It gives extensive instructions on what to do under the heading “Friendly Reminders,” but it’s not that friendly. It masks users’ QR codes so they cannot be scanned, denying people access to nearly all parts of China. In some cases, just one day of PCR testing can make the window disappear; other times, people may be asked to isolate at home for seven days or more.
I have friends all over China and this year I saw a lot of people complain about it. “To solve the pop-up problem, I took a PCR test and it turned out to be a high-risk area, so I was asked to quarantine at home for 14 days,” a friend wrote in April. The specifics may vary, but they all agree on a specific threat: no one knows why or when they will receive the pop-up, and there is no way to prepare for it.
Officials from the Beijing Municipal Government say people receive pop-ups for several reasons: you have been to a city with a recent case of Covid-19; you have just traveled abroad; you are in the same “time and space” as someone who has been exposed to Covid-19; or you PCR test not taken within 72 hours of purchase of fever or cough medicine.
But the problem is, Despite being touted as a high-tech pandemic solution, the app’s risk-identification mechanisms tend to cast a larger net than necessarythere are zero explanations for why the pop-up appears — which often confuses people and traps them in the Covid-19 predicament.
That’s what happened to Flora Yuan, a 28-year-old Beijing resident. She first received a pop-up earlier this year when she was walking out of an office building; she was immediately prevented from re-entering. “After the pop-up, you can still walk around the street, but you need a QR code to get into any place, park, restaurant or store,” she told me recently.