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2021-01-25 11:20:18

Following multiple instances of COVID-19 patients having their personal privacy invaded, health authorities in major cities like Shanghai and Beijing are changing how such information is disclosed.

The two cities have adopted an “only mention locations, not people” rule when divulging a patient’s travel history for contact-tracing purposes, state broadcaster China Central Television reported Sunday. Previously, health authorities would often share detailed patient information — including surname, gender, age, occupation, and address — as well as where they went and when.

Such announcements, though helpful for contact tracing, have led to excessive personal information being shared in the public domain, with some people facing discrimination and online bullying as a result.

In December, a female coronavirus patient in the southwestern city of Chengdu was bullied and slut-shamed after local health authorities revealed that she had visited three clubs, a bar, a restaurant, and a nail salon within a 14-day period before testing positive for the virus. In the online backlash that ensued, many people accused her of recklessly spreading the virus around the city.

Meanwhile, in another incident earlier this month, people were quick to rail against outmoded gender roles after a couple’s travel history was published for contact-tracing purposes in the northern Hebei province, which is currently facing a surge in coronavirus infections. The information revealed that, while the wife had spent her days doing household chores and taking care of the child, her husband had been frequenting local internet cafés.

Since the onset of the pandemic, many people have been sharing patients’ personal information and rumors of suspected outbreaks on social media, ostensibly to warn others. But such behavior has stoked privacy concerns and discrimination — and has even led to detentions.

Earlier this month, a doctor in the eastern city of Hangzhou was taken into custody for sharing a COVID-19 patient’s personal information in a group chat, while another man in eastern city of Qingdao was fined and given 15 days’ detention in October for exaggerating the severity of the city’s outbreak.

Last February, the Cyberspace Administration of China said information collected for epidemic prevention and control purposes should not be used for other activities, and entities collecting such data should safeguard it from being stolen or leaked online.

Editor: Bibek Bhandari.

(Header image: A boy plays with a spinning top in a residential area under lockdown in Shanghai, Jan. 24, 2021. People Visual)