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Using big data to fight COVID-19 in China

In the rush to contain the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, China came up with a number of innovative solutions. Unlike plagues and virus outbreaks of the past, we now have technology on our side. It’s no wonder that several countries have taken to using big data to combat the coronavirus. Big data includes the gathering and analysis of the mass amounts of information. China, in particular, is known for the fast adoption of new technology. This can be seen in the countless uses of WeChat alone, and how deeply it has integrated into the everyday life of the Chinese people.

In this Pacific Prime China article, we’ll list out several ways the Chinese government is using big data to keep the virus from spreading right now.

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Thermal scanner

You can usually find thermal scanners at public transportation sites. An example would be the thermal scanners installed at the East Railway Station at Chengdu. They display infrared images of people passing through gates on the screens. Next to these images would be the corresponding person’s body temperature. This is a great way to detect COVID-19, seeing as 50,000 people pass through this station alone per day. Not only is it more accurate, but it’s also a lot easier than having a staff member manually measure every passing person’s temperature.

What happens when the staff monitoring the scanners finds a passenger with a fever, one of the main symptoms of the coronavirus? In that case, he/she will be required to get tested at a hospital. Once it’s confirmed that they caught the virus, the staff will inform the local transport authorities who would then alert every single person who was present with the coronavirus carrier in their wagon. This is only possible because of China’s “real-name system”.

Real-name system

With this system, the government will know where you are at all times, and whether you’re at risk of catching the coronavirus. In China, all citizens are required to use government-issued ID cards to buy mobile sim cards, obtain social media accounts, take a train, board a plane, or even buy groceries. In other words, your presence both online and offline is tracked. There are approximately 200 million security cameras installed nationwide– some of which are equipped with facial recognition technology to track criminal acts. Amid the outbreak, China has also been using this surveillance system to keep tabs on its people.

Even in a small neighborhood, the government is vigilant with surveillance. In one example, Ren, a restaurant owner in Hubei got a call one day from the police. They told him to self-quarantine at home for 14 days. However, when he left to harvest vegetables at a nearby farm, another phone call warned him to return home immediately. This happened to Ren at the height of the epidemic.

China’s National Health Commission assures that the combined use of facial recognition and the real-name system helps the government track down citizens potentially exposed to the virus. In turn, this is expected to curb COVID-19 from spreading further.

Mobile phones and applications

With mobile phones and applications (apps), locals can find out whether they’ve come in contact with a confirmed coronavirus carrier.

Text messages

Telecommunication networks are state-owned. During the early days of the outbreak, China Mobile sent out detailed text messages to media outlets. Not only did these texts include travel history, but they also listed out the seat in which the carrier had sat on: which train compartment, and at what time. After, China Mobile posted this information on social media to let people know if they were at risk of being infected.


There are quite a few apps available for the sole purpose of fighting against COVID-19 in China. Close Contact Detector app is one such example. You simply enter your personal identification details and scan a QR code to check if you’ve ever come in close contact with an infected person.

Check out the Health Kit WeChat mini-program if you’re an expat living in Beijing since it’s open to foreign residents. Then, enter your passport information into the app. Immediately, you’ll be presented with your health status and your location over the past 14-day period.

Another app used in Beijing is the Health code system. It has been in use as early as in February. In this color-based system, you obtain your health code by entering two personal details: your name, and your national identity number. Finally, register with facial recognition. Much like a traffic light, the red, yellow, and green colors are used to indicate your health status and determine whether you can be allowed access to public venues.

Privacy concerns

As with all big data and mass-tracking, there had been privacy concerns. A tremendous amount of data is collected from local health commissions, police, transport departments, telecom, airlines, and even railway companies to monitor and control the movement of coronavirus carriers. However, Beijing insisted that it did not collect citizens’ real-time locations to protect their privacy.

Technology in the insurance industry

Likewise, there has also been a big push in using the latest technology in the insurance industry. For example, fitness trackers could potentially be used to assess all policyholders’ health conditions to determine your premium rate. Telemedicine has also seen a rise in popularity over the quarantine period. Curious to learn more about the world of health insurance? Download our free State of Health Insurance report 2019-2020 today!

No matter where you are in the world, it’s important to protect yourself with individual health insurance. This way, you can always ensure access to the best possible treatments for your condition. Our health insurance plans are fully compliant in China. Contact our team of expert insurance advisors today for tailored quotes! They’d be happy to offer impartial advice and help you find the perfect plan for your needs and budget.

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Disclaimer: Pacific Prime China solely represents, operates and manages locally regulated insurance products and services in the territory of PR China. Any references to Pacific Prime Global Company or Group, the international services, insurance products or otherwise stated written or verbally, is for introduction purposes about our overseas network only as each entity is fully independent.


Content Creator at Pacific Prime China
Serena is a content writer at Pacific Prime. She aims to demystify the world of insurance for readers with the latest updates, guides and articles on the blog. Serena believes in straight-forward and entertaining educational content.

Outside of work, Serena spends her time buried in books and dreaming of her next travel destination.