China ‘used health app for crowd control’
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China ‘used health app for crowd control’

Angry bank customers who traveled to a city in central China to collect their savings from troubled rural banks have been stopped by a health app on their mobile phones.

Chinese residents must have the app, which displays a code indicating their health status, including possible exposure to COVID-19.

A green code is required to use public transport and to enter offices, restaurants, and shopping centers.


But some savers at the banks in central Henan said their codes were deliberately colored red to stop them.

The incident has sparked a national debate about how a tool designed for public health was appropriated by political forces to quell the controversy.

The problem started in April when customers discovered they couldn’t access internet banking. They tried to report the banks and get their money back but got no response.

Thousands who had opened accounts with the six rural banks in Henan and Anhui provinces began withdrawing their savings after media reports that the head of the bank’s parent company was on the run.

The majority shareholder of some of the banks, Sun Zhenfu, was wanted by authorities for “serious financial crimes,” according to the official media outlet The Paper.

Customers who were unable to resolve the issue online took to the streets earlier this week to demand government action at the provincial office of the China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission in the provincial capital of Zhengzhou.

But they found they couldn’t go far when they got to the city.

In a since-deleted account on the social media app WeChat, a woman nicknamed Ai said shortly after checking into a hotel in Zhengzhou that, she was questioned by a group of police who asked her why she was there.

She replied that she wanted to withdraw money from the bank.

Shortly after, she found that her health code had turned red, even though she had a negative COVID-19 test result in the past 48 hours. She was immediately taken to a quarantined hotel.

Sixth Tone, a sister publication to The Paper, interviewed more than a dozen people who said their health app turned red after scanning a QR code in the city.

When people are considered at risk for COVID-19, their health code may change color to indicate restrictions such as mandatory quarantine.

With a red health code, it is impossible to go to a public location or to board a bus or train.

A bank customer, who gave her last name as Liu, said she had seen many people reporting that their health code had turned red after arriving in Zhengzhou.

Liu said she tested the code change after others reported it in a group chat.

After scanning the QR code of a photo shared in the group, Liu said her health code also turned red.

Another bank customer told Sixth Tone that he was given a red code after scanning at the train station in Zhengzhou and was taken into custody.

A few hours after police officers let him leave Zhengzhou, his health code turned green.

Jiakedao, a social media account of the main Communist Party newspaper, criticized Henan authorities in an editorial.

“Let’s face it, regardless of which department or person took the initiative, the arbitrary use of the epidemic prevention and control measures for ‘social governance’ or ‘maintaining stability’ must be held strictly accountable,” the editorial said.

An official of Henan’s Pandemic Control Committee said in response to Jiakedao that authorities were investigating reports of health codes turning red.