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Chinese citizens turn to tracker apps to avoid coronavirus-infected areas

Image credit: Satjawat Boontanataweepol | Dreamstime

As the coronavirus continues to spread, citizens across China are using mapping programmes and travel trackers in a bid to avoid neighbourhoods infected by the deadly virus and to better prepare them for the dangers they face.

Both data-mapping company QuantUrban and a third-party WeChat mini-program developer have created platforms that take official information on the neighbourhoods where confirmed cases live. These platforms then map this data geographically so that users can determine how close they are to infection sites.

While the WeChat program called ‘YiKuang’ - meaning ‘Epidemic Situation’ - covers the southern cities of Shenzhen and Guangzhou, QuantUrban’s browser-based maps also cover nine other cities in the province.

“Shenzhen might have a major outbreak in the next few days and government data comes out slowly,” said April, a Shenzhen-based manager who declined to give her full name. “Seeing the map is a psychological comfort. You can’t guarantee there won’t be fresh cases, but you can avoid an area that’s already hit.”

As of today (February 3), confirmed cases of those infected by the coronavirus have climbed rapidly to 245, making the southern tech capital the worst-affected of China’s main cities – Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. The city also has a large population of migrant workers from the heavily affected central provinces.

“We wanted to annotate the information on the map so that the public could better see how epidemic sites are distributed more intuitively and also remind everyone to make adequate protection,” said Yuan Xiaohui, QuantUrban’s co-founder and CEO.

Xiaohui also said that volunteers are helping the team at QuantUrban to keep the map up to date as the government releases data daily.

WeChat’s Yikuang also relies on volunteers to keep the information on the platform up to date and originally denoted neighbourhoods with confirmed cases with a skull and crossbones icon.

It has since changed this icon to a less alarming exclamation point, after users on China’s social media platform Weibo complained the skull would cause panic.

“If I know there are sick people nearby, I can take steps to be extra cautious,” said finance student Steven Lui. “I live between Shenzhen and Guangzhou and these maps are really great there.”

Xiaohui stated that QuantUrban is also covering nine other cities in the Guangdong province which borders Hong Kong and Macau.

State-owned media CCTV and the People’s Daily have also given their endorsement to separate programmes that help users track whether a bus, train or aeroplane they have travelled on was also used by a confirmed infected patient.

According to the CEO of the deVere Group, one of the world’s largest financial services firms, the outbreak of the coronavirus has become a major contributor to the soaring value of Bitcoin in recent weeks.

In January, Facebook said it was working to “limit the spread of misinformation” on its platform with regards to the coronavirus. Meanwhile, robots were deployed in a hotel in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, to tend to people under quarantine.

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