As the Delta variant of COVID-19 renews fear of local spread in several Chinese cities, the state-developed COVID mobile location tracker is experiencing a new surge of traffic.
In a Thursday press conference on pandemic control, China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology said the "Information Big Data Itinerary Pass" system has issued over 12 billion passes since its launch.
The Itinerary Pass was released in February 2020 by China's three telecom operators. It automatically tracks a mobile phone user's geolocation through cellular base stations and generates an itinerary covering the past 14 days. If the user hasn't been to any places with recent local infections, the itinerary can be accepted as proof of low risk at commercial venues. It works alongside the Healthcode system, originally developed by Alibaba, which relies more on voluntary disclosure.
In the pandemic's early months, technology-enabled pandemic solutions like the Itinerary Pass were rapidly introduced in China. They remained in use, albeit less frequently, as China headed into a year with few to no local COVID cases. But in early August, multiple Chinese cities — including Nanjing, Wuhan and Beijing — went into lockdown mode after the highly transmissible Delta variant made its way into China. Workplaces, public transport and businesses have now reinstated strict requirements requiring proof of no COVID contact, meaning the need for an Itinerary Pass has grown.
On the morning of Aug 2, the Itinerary Pass system, which covers over 1.6 billion mobile phones in China, went into an hours-long shutdown. Users from across the country complained instantly on social media, as the break in service prevented users from commuting to work or entering office buildings. The China Academy of Information and Communications Technology, the institution that developed and maintains the system, said the shutdown was caused by a sudden increase in traffic that overwhelmed capacity.