One of the biggest innovations in the fight against coronaviruses in China is the “health code”. In early February, Alibaba helped the Hangzhou municipality set up a trial application. The idea was to use big data to help control the spread of the virus, individual by individual, so that communities can return to normal more quickly.
The company and provincial governments across China were able to roll out the app nationwide in a matter of weeks.
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The app has helped millions of people get out of solitary confinement after only about two weeks in exchange for their privacy.
- People with a green code can travel freely.
- Yellow codes must quarantine for one week
- Red codes must spend two weeks at home.
Law enforcement varies considerably by region and even by neighborhood.
If you want to know how it got there, we explained everything in this post.
- The beginnings of the application
- The developpement
- The encountered difficulties
- Application launch
- Nation wide launch.
1. The beginnings of the application
The application uses algorithms and data sources to judge the risk of infection for its users. The story also shows the strength of the blurred lines between the state and businesses in China, with Alibaba employees busy building state systems in a matter of days – and reveals remarkable optimism at its end.
2. Story of the health code: From hangzhou to nation wide use
On February 3, after Hangzhou put in place strict quarantine measures, one of the first areas in Zhejiang province hit by the epidemic, the city’s Yuhang District organized Ali Cloud, DingTalk and Alipay to train an online virtual team to urgently develop the first version of the Health Code.
Hangzhou municipal party secretary Zhou Jiangyong made a proposal at a major meeting on February 6: In order to help businesses get back to work, the city should play on the benefits of its digital economy. He proposed to establish a unified digital reporting platform, including personal electronic health codes and timely data sharing.
The party secretary wanted the code to be implemented the next day. Relevant departments in Hangzhou and Alibaba worked overtime overnight to finalize the business logic map. After a sleepless development day on February 8, the company’s employee health code was launched.
The development team quickly became the Hangzhou Health Code project team, and other government departments and technical staff were transferred to the site. On February 20, Li Kai, head of Ali Cloud’s digital government in Hubei Province, received a list of developers stranded in Hubei – more than 150 people.
It took half a day to set up a virtual online group of more than 70 people, their task: in three days, create a health code system for Hubei. By that time, the number of confirmed cases in Hubei had exceeded 60,000. Unlike other provinces and cities, which mainly use red codes to know who to isolate, in Hubei, the idea was to know who could get out.
Meanwhile in Hubei
As the epidemic situation in Hubei Province changed from time to time, the government continued to modify the requirements of the algorithm. It was therefore necessary to develop an algorithm entirely different from that of Zhejiang.
Hubei was already divided into high, medium and low risk areas. Within 4 hours, the team had an algorithm for low risk areas; in 12 hours, for medium risk areas. For high-risk areas, they did not develop a general algorithm, but focused on covering essential workers by whitelisting. People with unexplained fevers were put on the red list if they were in Wuhan; in the rest of Hubei, they had no code at all yet.
3. The encountered difficulties
The team started with just four people, and the complexity and accuracy of the algorithm has increased exponentially, said Li. There is no doubt that close contacts, such as confirmed cases and their spouses, must have received red codes.
The most complicated cases to assess are atypical cases, such as driving across Hubei without stopping on the road, or sleeping on the road overnight, or taking a train train through Hubei, and subdivisions following.
Or if you have confirmed cases in an apartment complex, do you put everyone in the complex on a red code, “asked Ding Xianshu, product expert for the data intelligence team in the Ali cloud and product manager of the code engine.
The code also needs to adapt to the changes as the rules are updated daily, changing the way people visited and underwent temperature checks in public places, pharmacies, supermarkets, intersections.
At one point, project manager Li did not sleep for 48 hours. Calls kept pouring in and his lungs were blocked. Everyone told Li to rest, but he refused. Someone complained to HR, and several colleagues forced him into the car and sent him home.
Arriving home early in the morning, Li remembers that the security guards, having learned that he was developing the application, immediately stood up and greeted him.
4. Application launch
On the day the Zhejiang Health Code was launched, the government electronic office of the General Office of the State Council instructed Ali to accelerate the development of an integrated national health code system. Two days later, the Zhejiang health code was broadcast on television.
5. Towards a Nation wide launch
On February 18, Ali Cloud’s intelligence put together four teams to spread the code nationwide. The rules of Hubei’s algorithm were the most complex.
“This green code, this green color, for a long time, was hope.” Said Mr. Li.
The time gap between the launch of the Hangzhou Yuchang green code on February 7 and Hubei’s first green code on March 6, took just a month.
The long march that the Chinese tech giants have been trying to complete for almost two decades, a platform covering Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Hangzhou, or a remote border or mountainous region, was achieved in 30 days. For thousands of years, man and information have been two separate things. The invention of language, writing, printing, the telegraph and the Internet made it easier for people to find information. After entering the mobile Internet era, the smartphone has become the news outlet for humanity.
Getting this mass of information out efficiently and accurately is a revolution, and cloud computing is what drives it. In March 1953, the world had only 53k bytes of high-speed random access memory (RAM). Today’s smartphones have 100,000 times more. People and information are “one”. The essence of the health code is to reshape the relationship between people and information, and to promote the emergence of knowledgeable people.
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