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2021-12-22 11:43:09

Residents in the northwestern city of Xi’an complained that their mobile QR codes, which serve as a virtual health passport, crashed after an uptick in COVID-19 this week, disrupting daily activities.

The sudden increase in locals accessing the “One Code Pass” app used to register and view the results of their nucleic acid tests in Shaanxi province, where Xi’an is the provincial capital, led to the system’s crash Monday morning, according to domestic media reports. The inbuilt health code, required to gain access to most public and private venues, also crashed simultaneously.

Xi’an has emerged as the latest coronavirus hotspot in China, with the historic city logging 52 of the 57 confirmed local infections reported nationwide on Tuesday, according to the National Health Commission. The city has recorded 143 confirmed local cases since the first infection in the latest wave that was identified on Dec. 9.

On Sunday evening, the municipal government in Xi’an ordered local residents to show proof of a negative COVID-19 nucleic acid test taken within the past 48 hours to enter public venues, including their workplaces.

The announcement led tens of thousands in the city of over 12 million people to line up outside testing centers in subzero temperatures Sunday night. However, they were unable to retrieve their test results when the health app crashed the next morning, barring them from taking public transport or going to work.

A local resident surnamed Yang told Sixth Tone that staff at the city’s subway stations were photographing the commuters’ identity cards after the health app crashed, resulting in long lines. He added that people had to wait for hours just to enter a station.

“During the special period of mass testing, we recommended the public to not open the code if not necessary,” Liu Jun, director of Xi’an Big Data Resources Administration, said at a press conference Monday afternoon.

The response drew flack online, with many criticizing the local government’s evasive attitude to the self-contradictory policy, though the issue was fixed by the end of the day Monday.

“Who would open the code if not requested? The main task (for the government) now is to enhance the system’s capacity,” one user wrote on the microblogging platform Weibo.

The cluster in Xi’an has prolonged China’s latest COVID-19 outbreak, lasting over two months so far. Though the spike in infections in other provincial-level areas, including Inner Mongolia, Heilongjiang, Zhejiang, and Shanghai, have largely been brought under control, the country is grappling to eliminate the virus as part of its zero-COVID strategy.

On Monday, the National Health Commission announced new policies to prevent possible spread of the virus during the Lunar New Year travel rush starting next month. The country’s top health authority advised people from cities with medium- and high-risk areas to avoid traveling, or have a negative nucleic acid test taken within 48 hours before their journey. 

Editor: Bibek Bhandari.

(Header image: Locals line up to receive COVID-19 test in Xi’an, Shaanxi province, Dec. 21, 2021. Zhang Yuan/CNS/People Visual)