BEIJING: Days after buying over-the-counter medicine from a pharmacy in Beijing, university student Yu was stunned to find her prized green health code – the essential rating needed to enter the city’s shops, offices and public transport – was gone.
In a scene being repeated across the Chinese capital, a pop-up window now warned the app could no longer ascertain her coronavirus risk status.
School was out for Chinese New Year, so accessing classrooms was not a problem. Getting her bubble tea fix, however, was another matter.
“I’m not buying enough tea to meet the minimum for delivery, but the milk tea shop won’t let me in without a health code,” she lamented on the Twitter-like Weibo social media platform.
Yu was one of thousands who showed up to Beijing workplaces or shopping malls this week only to find they were barred entry due to their health code status, as already-strict virus controls were ramped up ahead of the Winter Olympics.
Overnight, the city had quietly rolled out a new rule requiring everyone who had bought medication for anything that might be a COVID-19 symptom – including fever, cough and throat dryness – to take a virus test before their health app status could be restored to green.
But this was not simply a tech hiccup.
China – where the coronavirus first emerged in late 2019 – is one of the last places in the world sticking to a zero-tolerance policy in which the slightest hint of an outbreak is met by mass testing and strict quarantines.
The health codes, with their colour-coded system of red, yellow and green signifying different levels of COVID-19 risk, have been a crucial pillar of this system.
Health-tracking apps are now required for entry almost everywhere, including offices, transport stations, stores, malls and taxis.
Without it, normal life grinds to a halt.