The recent incident of Henan Rural Bank depositors‘ protest being stopped by the red code sparked public outcry. Under public opinion, the Henan Health and Health Commission announced that it “launched an investigation”. However, the matter remains unresolved while authorities in Hanan blame each other.
Since April, several rural banks in the province have been caught up in a corruption scandal when online and mobile cash withdrawals were blocked for their clients. That left depositors outside available bank branches unable to gain access to their funds. Many of them planned to gather on June 13 in Zhengzhou, Henan’s capital city, to object.
But upon arriving there or even making plans to travel, bank depositors found that their Covid health codes turned red, indicating high risk and effectively barring them from moving freely in or out of the province. Chen, a depositor from Sichuan province, said, “They are putting digital handcuffs on us.”
On June 15, a screenshot of “investigation results” was uploaded on NetEase saying the red code was a technical issue and that the programmers of the health code operating company made the mistakes.
Netizens ridiculed the authorities for using the programmer as a scapegoat and requested the identity of those IT staff.
The NetEase platform subsequently issued a “rumor-refuting statement”, claiming that the screenshot of the report was artificially forged.
Lu Media questioned authorities on the issue and received different responses. The Zhengzhou 12345 hotline said, “there is a problem with the big database”. The Henan Provincial Health and Health Commission claims they do not have the authority to assign codes. “Henan Provincial Administrative Examination and Approval and Government Information Administration”, also known as “Henan Provincial Big Data Administration”, refused to take responsibility, saying the social prevention and control department under the Zhengzhou Epidemic Prevention and Control Headquarters in charge of health codes.
Lu Media quoted industry experts as saying that the technical teams and enterprises running the health code do not have the power to transcode, and generally operate according to the list provided by the Health and Health Commission and the disease control department. There is a greater possibility of manual intervention by the relevant administrative departments.
Zhang Junqiang, a Shanghai-based lawyer, said, “The purpose of epidemic prevention and control is clear—it’s illegal to use personal privacy beyond this purpose.”
Hu Xijin, former editor-in-chief of the state-run Global Times, also mentioned that any use outside of Covid prevention purposes would be a “clear violation” of anti-virus measures. This has been seen as abusing the pandemic-management system to target individuals.
Relevant departments in Henan and Zhengzhou are yet to give a concrete response.