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Beijing Health Kit

Every day for three years

In China, WeChat is the equivalence of WhatsApp with the same chat function, but it is also a social media as one can share photos, videos, and messages on a public wall. However, one of its most important functions besides the chat is the mobile payment option linked to a bank account. WeChat Pay is easy and quick to use as one just need to scan others' QR codes or letting them scanning 'us', as we would say. Scanning a QR code hasn't only changed the way people pay but also the social interaction during the transaction as one just enters the shop, searches the QR code usually visible at the entrance or somewhere close to the vendor, scans it, pays, and almost no words are needed. In a sense, WeChat Pay determines how we pay as its digital wallet has entirely replaced physical coins and bills in the cities.

It is important to first introduce WeChat Pay as people got increasingly used to scanning QR codes on a daily basis, sharing their data and not resisting such technological determinism. Since the Covid-19 pandemic started, a widespread tracing program made its appearance, the Beijing Health Kit, as one of the most used mini-programs embedded to WeChat. Record on vaccination is found but more importantly the last PCR tests done. It also detects if one has been in a high-risk area, which would instantly bring pop-up windows, the green code would change to orange and one would receive calls from the local bureaus to stay home for an enforced home quarantine. From mid 2020 to late 2022, the Health Kit QR code had to be scanned every day, everywhere, before entering supermarkets, restaurants, shopping malls, parks, any building or residential area. Requirements varied as scanning was first asked to check if the code was green and one did not visit any high-risk area, which was the primary function of the Health Kit, but since March 2022 it started to also go hand in hand with Beijing testing policies.

The capital decided to let people enter public places with a PCR test done in the last 24h, 48h or 72h. Rules changed according to the severity of the outbreaks, as a 24h test was required in April 2022, 72h were required in summer and since November we were required a 48h test to move anywhere, even for taking the subway. Needless to say, the Beijing Health Kit as platform is political and only exists to enforce China’s zero-covid policy; influencing the way people live by restraining them in their movements. As all platform driven by politics, it will lack of meaning as laws change, as it already happened in the last two weeks where the state abruptly abandoned its restrictions. Soon enough, the Beijing Health Kit will become obsolete, as its tween the travel code, which stopped to work the 13th of December 2022.

As the Health Kit shaped people's everyday life for three years, it is interesting to see how the program’s interface design evolved. For example, the coloured circles around the profile picture were suddenly animated to avoid people from using screenshots, which would only show still circles and then allow them to fake their condition. Also, the number of days since the last PCR test was done was highlighted in size and boldness so a guard could see it in less than two seconds. Not only visuals would let the guards know if conditions were met, as the program also had a voice that would automatically mention the number. I have to say that I would often keep the sound low in case the scan would not work, generating an annoying and embarrassing alarm. For many years, beijingers will remember the meaning of "no abnormal conditions" and the anxiety that came along.

Posted: December 20th, 2022

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