China Using Secret Phone Tracking Data to Round Up Residents Amid Second Wave
People ordered to report for COVID-19 testing after movements secretly tracked
China is ordering people who visited certain areas of Beijing to report for COVID-19 testing after their movements were secretly tracked via their phones by the Chinese government, according to reports.
The location tracing was revealed by a Western reporter who says he received a phone call from government health officials ordering him to report for coronavirus testing after he attended the "sprawling" Xinfadi wholesale food market.
The market is believed to be the source of the latest outbreak in Beijing that has triggered a second wave of the virus.
The Communist Party of China (CPC) is using phone location tracking information to round up more than 350,000 people for coronavirus testing but refuses to reveal how they are accessing the data.
One city official explained that 355,000 people had been identified for testing using "big data" but didn't elaborate further.
At least 21 million people have been placed back under lockdown rules as China battles the latest outbreak of the coronavirus, that it previously claimed to have defeated.
Checkpoints have reportedly been reimposed on all residential complexes in the city after its emergency response level was raised and residents are required to go through facial recognition cameras or show digital passes if they wish to enter or leave compounds.
Another 21 cases of the virus were reported in the past 24 hours in Beijing, the National Health Commission said, taking the total number of new infections to 158.
Writing for the Associated Press, Mark Schiefelbein told how he was tracked via his phone after he attended the Xinfadi market in Bejing.
He explained that he was called by an official who "informed me that I should shortly report to the gates of a nearby sports stadium to be bused to a coronavirus testing site."
He added that he was told that "someone with my cellphone number had been in the vicinity of the market.
"I may have been tracked through my cellphone.
"A Beijing city official said Wednesday that 355,000 people have been identified for testing via big data, but he did not specify how," he wrote.
It comes as news also emerged that Beijing has imposed lockdown rules on its 21 million residents, according to the Times.
Residents have been urged not to travel outside the capital after the outbreak spread to four other Chinese provinces.
Thousands of flights have also been canceled at Beijing's airports and the city's emergency response level has been raised to its second-highest.
The first case of the new outbreak was identified last week and linked to the Xinfadi food market.
Close contacts were being traced to locate all possible cases as quickly as possible amid strengthened testing and other prevention and control measures, Hu Hejian said Thursday.
Anyone who has been near the market since May 30, along with their close contacts, will be quarantined at home for 14 days and tested at least twice, city government official Zhang Ge said.
The city has closed its borders to all confirmed cases, suspected cases, patients with fever, and close contacts from abroad and other provinces, Zhang said.
China already has barred most foreigners from entering the country and even foreign diplomats arriving from abroad must under two weeks of isolation at home, he said.
All indoor public venues, including clubhouses and party rooms in apartment complexes, will remain closed, Zhang said.
Offices, restaurants, and hotels in high-risk areas will be shut down, he said.
Flights at the city's two airports have already been cut by half.
The national total of new cases included four brought by Chinese travelers from outside the country and three in the city of Tianjin and Hebei province, both of which border Beijing.
Wu Zunyou, the chief epidemiologist from Beijing Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, said at a press briefing today Beijing's outbreak "is already under control."
Crowds of masked people waiting for tests have become a common sight in recent days across Beijing, which has tested more than 350,000 people, with many more expected.
Residents now require a negative result on a nucleic acid test to travel, officials say, as well as to visit some attractions or return to work in industries that involve food handling.
That is in addition to mandatory tests for those with direct links to the market and their close contacts, as well as people in surrounding neighborhoods and frontline health workers.
The Beijing effort is China's latest mass testing exercise, though it is more focused than a similar program in Wuhan, the central city where the virus first surfaced last year, that had tested more than 6 million people in less than 10 days.
In Beijing, people marshaled for mandatory tests in converted parks, and sports fields said test times were designated for them in door-to-door checks forming part of a contact tracing campaign.
No new deaths have been reported so far, leaving the claimed total number of fatalities at 4,634 amid 83,293 cases recorded since the virus was first detected in the central city of Wuhan late last year.
The Xinfadi market supplies more than 70 percent of Beijing's meat and vegetables.
The number of visitors to the market made the outbreak "hard to control," Pang Xinghuo, deputy director of the Beijing Center for Disease Control and Prevention, told reporters Wednesday.
Eleven markets have been shuttered, thousands of food and beverage businesses disinfected, and schools closed again in the city.
Hundreds of thousands of people have been tested for the virus so far but a shortage of expensive machines has led to delays in processing swabs.
China also reported four imported cases on Thursday as Chinese nationals returned from abroad.
Until the Beijing cluster emerged last week, imported cases had accounted for the majority of infections in the country for several months.