Countries and regions all over the world have elevated their
response to the COVID-19 novel coronavirus, imposing travel bans and cancelling
events, bringing the economy to a standstill. In China, however, where the
first lockdowns were implemented in late January at an estimated economic cost
of around RMB100 billion per day, the virus has been effectively contained,
businesses have resumed operation and life is returning to normal.
early February, when China implemented blanket bans on travelers, I argued for
a more precise means of identifying at-risk persons for infection who had
traveled to affected areas, like Wuhan.
phones have an important role to play – they are an integral part of
peoples’ lives, and we take them literally everywhere we go. Telecommunications
operators thus have the best grasp on where a person has traveled to, at what
time and for how long.
keeping this important data secure and private, operators could work with
governments and leading mobile internet companies across the world to develop
an electronic “passport” and provide more precise epidemic prevention
With the “passport” generated by this app, governments could, in a
fluid and timely fashion, set travel, isolation and preventative regulations
(like, the requirement to wear a mask) with view to the developing situation in
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Today, China has managed to both effectively contain the virus and
allow citizens to move freely throughout the country, using a mobile app to
generate a “Health Code.” The code, which any mobile phone user can easily
obtain, allows individuals to voluntarily declare their movements, at a crucial
moment in the fight against the epidemic, which would ordinarily demand
stricter measures, like lockdowns and travel bans.
alternative is not only draconian, but ineffective. For example, currently, a
British national who has traveled to Italy (and is therefore at risk of
infection) may be allowed to enter Singapore, while an Italian national who has
resided in the United Kingdom for years (and is thus a low risk case) would be
someone who traveled to Italy 10 days ago, but has been in the U.K. since, would
be required to quarantine for another 14 days upon arriving in a third country.
A smart “passport” would accurately identify material risk in both of these
cases and alleviate the traveler who had been in Italy 10 days ago of the
additional and unnecessary 14-day burden, shortening the required isolation
period to four days.
has been demonstrated domestically, Chinese citizens are more than willing to
declare - in the form of a “health code” - their travel history in return for
freedom of movement and convenience. If governments and telecommunications
providers around the globe worked together to make this data available to citizens,
travelers could voluntarily offer proof of their movements in exchange for
privileges that may otherwise be restricted as a precautionary measure.
sufficient technological support, restrictions could be tightened and eased in
real-time, avoiding unnecessary barriers to economic activity while effectively
containing the outbreak. Telecommunications providers possess the data to
deduce our movements and make this possible.
this data should be used sparingly and with consent, many citizens would be
willing to make such a declaration, in the same way some countries require
itineraries and return tickets for entry. For example, Singapore Telecom could
develop a mobile app to allow its users to voluntarily and conveniently declare
their recent travel history when entering a destination country.
the alternative is prolonged blanket restrictions on travel and the real risk
of economic recession, offering citizens the option to declare their movements
in exchange for freedom of movement could be an effective way to balance
control of the outbreak with the pressing need to resume normal economic and
this stage in the global fight against the epidemic, it is critical to minimize
the negative impact on the economy. A smart app that helps precisely identify
high-risk persons could have an important role.
*This article originally appeared on WebInTravel.
About the author...
James Liang is chairman of Trip.com Group
. These opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Trip.com Group Ltd. as a whole.