Phone Apps in China Track Coronavirus
People in China are using mobile phone apps to follow and, perhaps, help slow the spread of the coronavirus, COVID-19.
Some apps provide up-to-date information about locations with the virus, while others collect data on infected persons.
The Chinese government is working with two of the country’s largest technology companies to track the disease. Alibaba Group and Tencent Holdings created color-based systems that record the health of individuals and identify carriers of the coronavirus.
Last week, Alipay, a payment app operated by Alibaba, released a system using colored QR codes that shows the health of people in Hangzhou. A QR code links the user to an internet site with information about a subject.
Users in Hangzhou can use the app to report their official identification number and seek information. Individuals are asked to report recent travel outside the city, as well as symptoms of flu, such as a high body temperature or strong cough.
After completing the questionnaire, users receive a mobile phone message that includes a color-based QR code related to the health condition they described.
Users with a red code are told to quarantine themselves for 14 days and continue reporting their condition by using Alibaba’s DingTalk messaging app. Users with a yellow code are told to stay in quarantine for seven days, while those with a green code can travel freely.
Chinese state media said the Alibaba system would be deployed at train stations, along major roads and other travel checkpoints. The system is also being used in some neighborhoods.
Two people living in Hangzhou told Reuters they were asked to show QR codes when entering their apartment buildings. Another individual told the news agency that she was asked to show her QR code before entering the local supermarket.
Alipay said it was working with the government to expand the system nationwide.
Tencent, which operates China’s popular messaging app WeChat, reported the launch of a similar QR code-based tracking system. Tencent developed the system with help from China’s National Development and Reform Council.
The company said on Saturday the system was in use in Shenzhen. Officials said they expected it to be deployed to other parts of Guangdong province soon.
Even before the latest systems were announced, many Chinese were already using mapping and travel apps to avoid areas with coronavirus infections.
One of the apps, developed by WeChat, uses official reports to identify places in Shenzhen and Guangzhou where coronavirus cases have been confirmed. Data mapping company QuantUrban created a similar system to track nine additional cities in Guangdong province.
One user of the apps told Reuters she finds the maps can provide “psychological comfort.” The woman, who did not want her full name reported, said: “You can’t guarantee there won’t be fresh cases, but you can avoid an area that’s already hit.”
The technology website Abacus reported that citizens can request location data from their mobile phone carrier to show they had not been in affected areas. The report said that if requested, China’s state-owned telecommunication companies will send users a message listing all the areas they had visited within the past 14 days.
Detailed tracking records for mobile users exist in China because the country requires users to register their real names and other personal information when signing up for telecom services.
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Biden Cancels Federal Student Loans for Nearly 153,000 Borrowers
President Joe Biden said Wednesday that while a college degree was still a ticket to a better life, that ticket is often too expensive, as he announced he was canceling federal student loans for nearly 153,000 borrowers.
Biden, who is in the midst of a three-day campaign swing through California, made the announcement as part of a new repayment plan that offers a faster path to forgiveness, putting the spotlight on his debt cancellation efforts in his reelection campaign.
"Too many Americans are still saddled with unsustainable debt in exchange for a college degree," he said from a local library before he went on to campaign-related events. Loan relief helps the greater economy, he said, because "when people have a student debt relief, they buy homes. They start businesses, they contribute. They engage."
The administration began sending email notifications on Wednesday to some of the borrowers who will benefit from what the White House has called the SAVE program. The cancellations were originally scheduled to start in July, but last month the administration said it would be ready almost six months ahead of schedule, in February.
"Starting today, the first round of folks who are enrolled in our SAVE student loan repayment plan who have paid their loans for 10 years and borrowed $12,000 or less will have their debt cancelled," Biden posted on social media Wednesday. "That's 150,000 Americans and counting. And we're pushing to relieve more."
The first round of forgiveness from the SAVE plan will clear $1.2 billion in loans. The borrowers will get emails with a message from Biden notifying them that "all or a portion of your federal student loans will be forgiven because you qualify for early loan forgiveness under my Administration's SAVE Plan."
In his email to borrowers, Biden wrote he had heard from "countless people who have told me that relieving the burden of their student loan debt will allow them to support themselves and their families, buy their first home, start a small business, and move forward with life plans they've put on hold."
More than 7.5 million people have enrolled in the new repayment plan.
He said Wednesday that it was the kind of relief "that can be life-changing for individuals and their families."
"I'm proud to have been able to give borrowers like so many of you the relief you earned," he said, asking the crowd gathered for his speech how many had debt forgiven. Many raised their hands.
Borrowers are eligible for cancellation if they are enrolled in the SAVE plan, originally borrowed $12,000 or less to attend college and have made at least 10 years of payments. Those who took out more than $12,000 will be eligible for cancellation but on a longer timeline. For each $1,000 borrowed beyond $12,000, it adds an additional year of payments on top of 10 years.
The maximum repayment period is capped at 20 years for those with only undergraduate loans and 25 years for those with any graduate school loans.
Biden announced the new repayment plan last year alongside a separate plan to cancel up to $20,000 in loans for millions of Americans. The Supreme Court struck down his plan for widespread forgiveness, but the repayment plan has so far escaped that level of legal scrutiny. Unlike his proposal for mass cancellation — which had never been done before — the repayment plan is a twist on existing income-based plans created by Congress more than a decade ago.
Biden said he remained steadfast in his commitment to "fix our broken student loan system," working around the court's ruling to find other ways to get it done.
This College Student’s Acceptance Letter Came With a Marching Band
Alejandro Marroquin, 17, was surprised one morning by a full marching band outside his home, carrying a letter admitting him to the University of Maryland. Read the story from Emily Davies of The Washington Post. (January 2024)