Tech Breakdown: How can health code make intl travel easier amid pandemic?
Updated 13:26, 11-Mar-2021
By Guo Meiping

International travel during the COVID-19 pandemic is undoubtedly inconvenient for people around the globe. 

Many countries require negative COVID-19 test results and quarantines from travelers and impose travel restrictions and bans when the pandemic situation gets severe.

An international health code might help mitigate these inconveniences.

A color-based system, health code can assess people's contagion risks based on factors like travel history and relationships to potential coronavirus carriers.

A green code means the person is healthy and can travel, while a yellow or red code means the person has a potential risk of infection and needs to be quarantined. The system can also help authorities to identify and trace people who have been potentially exposed to COVID-19.

China has been using the health code system since February 2020. By asking people to scan QR codes in public places, such as hospitals, shopping malls, residential communities and workplaces, authorities can record travel information and track close contacts of COVID-19 cases.

Many countries, including the U.S., the UK and Japan have launched similar smartphone apps or systems to rein in the spread of COVID-19.

At the International Two-dimensional Code Industry Development Summit held last December in Foshan, south China's Guangdong Province, China proposed to build an international digital health code mutual recognition mechanism. A technical committee was set up to establish the mechanism, with over 10 organizations and medical associations from countries including Germany, Russia, Mongolia and Pakistan joining.

Zhang Chao, secretary-general of Zhongguancun Industry & Information Research Institute of Two-dimensional Code Technology, explained that the mechanism will allow two or more countries to achieve mutual recognition of their health codes, rendering them effective in all regions involved.

Zhang provided an example of how the mechanism might work: When a Russian national lands in China, a request will first be sent to the mechanism's global center to check where the person has come from. Then the information will go to Russia's digital health system. Once the person's information is validated, a digital health code will be generated and shown to Chinese border inspection staff.

The mechanism would be built based on four principles: safeguarding the information security of countries involved, guaranteeing user privacy, standardizing code recognition, and providing efficiency and convenience, Zhang told CGTN.

Besides combating COVID-19, such a mechanism could also help mankind better prepared to respond quickly in case of any future epidemic.

(Cover image by Gao Hongmei)

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