Daily PCR tests in China’s Shenzhen as zero-Covid policy continues
While a growing number of countries are dropping regulations for the Covid-19 pandemic, most regions in China are still imposing strict quarantine and testing policies, despite public complaints. In southern Guangdong province, the preventive measures are stringent, and a recent outage of the province’s Covid pass in the industrial city Shenzhen triggered further chaos.
In the past few days, Shenzhen, a city of more than 17 million people in Guangdong province, has been witnessing an upsurge of Covid cases, pushing the government to toughen the preventive measures. The city is known for having some of the toughest PCR schemes in the country, with the time gap between PCR tests going from 72 hours earlier this year, to 48, and now every 24 hours.
The province uses an electronic Covid-pass system, the Guangdong Health Code (GHC), known as Yuekang, to monitor citizens’ movements and infection status. The province’s residents rely on the Yuekang apps installed on their phones to get through their daily lives, flashing QR codes to get into enclosed areas such as their residences or workplace. They are let in only if a recent PCR test shows they are Covid-negative and that they have not come in close contact with patients.
The Yuekang platform encountered a technical glitch on August 31, with the system crashing entirely in Shenzhen for several hours, making it impossible for residents to get PCR tests and travel around the city.
A hashtag #ShenzhenPCRtestbreakdown circulated on Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter. Users expressed their frustration with the unexpected scenario, complaining how their work was put on hold because they were not able to renew their “green” Covid-free status on the Yuekang system.
Green Code required for entry
Our Observer Yujun (not her real name) explained to us how the Health Code system works in Guangdong Province, where Shenzhen is located. She asked to remain anonymous for security reasons.
Every province in China has its own health code system, and ours is called the Guangdong Health Code (GHC), or Yuekang.
Right now in Shenzhen, as long as you have the green code, you can enter everywhere, with or without vaccination.
The main purpose of the GHC is to track the history of individual people’s movements. For example, you will see a QR code at the entrance if you go to a cinema. You scan it on your phone, and the app sends your location and the time of your visit to the central Yuekang system. Later on, if the location confirms a case of Covid, your visit will show up in their database, and your personal Yuekang code might turn yellow or red.
However, given that the geolocating function on the app might not always be accurate, it happens quite often that the data goes wrong, and your code turns yellow or red by mistake.
'How can you expect people to do a PCR test every 24 hours?'
Following the recent escalation of the pandemic in Shenzhen, we spoke with another Observer in the city, Xiaohua (not her real name), who also asked to remain anonymous. She shared with us her daily routine.
I do a test every day after work.
In Shenzhen, the queues for a PCR test are well-organised, but they can be really long.
I had never seen such a long queue when the situation started getting more unstable last week. It must have been at least 1.5 kilometres long. It took me more than an hour to get tested.
PCR has become an essential part of our lives here. For instance, I work in an office building, and if I don’t receive my negative test result on time, I won’t be able to enter the building for work.
In the last few days, as the number of confirmed cases started going up again, security officers in the building even started checking the location logs on our Yuekang apps system to see if we have been to high-risk regions.
But how can you expect people to do a PCR test every 24 hours? We are human beings, and since we are human beings, it’s inevitable for us to make a mistake. There will definitely be a time when we simply forget to do a test, or don’t manage to do one, yet we still need to go to work the next day.
It’s not that people don’t do their tests on purpose, sometimes you just make a mistake.
'People are using fake codes to get around the rules'
Linqian (not her real name), also from Shenzhen, told the Observers the conditions that temporarily crippled her mobility on August 31, the day of the outage.
My Yuekang status suddenly turned yellow. I had to get a PCR test so my code would turn green again.
I was in a remote location when it happened. The app told me to go to a yellow-status testing centre but it was a long way away. With my yellow code, I couldn’t board the metro or take a taxi.
In the end, I used a fake code to get a cab. With all the restrictions, many people are using fake codes to get around the rules.
I knew the Yuekang system was down, and that many people were waiting hours to get a PCR test. I thought I’d have to wait a long time too but it wasn’t a long wait in the end.
My negative result went into the app, but it took four hours for my status to turn back to green. It always takes a few hours.
And I hadn’t even been to the place where they claimed I had close contact with the virus! I have no idea how this happened.