On June 29th, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) of China announced a news release: To firmly implement the Communist Party Central Committee and the State Council's Covid-19 prevention and control and "Zero-COVID Strategy", maintain economic and social development, and facilitate travel for the majority of citizens, the "asterisk" (*) mark on citizens' travel cards will be removed with immediate effect.
Before this, since 2020, residents of mainland China have been moving outside the province mainly through the travel card within Alipay. The personal information page will show an asterisk if you have come into contact with a suspicious person or arrived in a pandemic high-risk area during this period. If a citizen with an asterisk on their card arrives outside the province, they may need to be quarantined or even discouraged from returning to their place of departure.
According to the "travel card" user guide, the asterisk "*" does not indicate that the user has visited these medium and high-risk areas and is not related to the user's health condition. The asterisk disappears when the user has not travelled to a city in a medium or high-risk area within the last 14 days.
It can be traced back as far as a message dated February 2020. The China Academy of Information and Communication Research (CAICR), together with three basic telecom companies, used telecom big data to launch the "Travel Card" service, which accesses China's 1.6 billion mobile phone users and shows the information on where they visited in the past 14 days.
During China's pandemic control, health cards and travel cards have become essential for citizens to travel.
The health card is used as a personal electronic pass, a two-dimensional code containing sensitive personal information such as health status, travel history and place of residence, and its secure use is backed by the government's credibility. The travel card, on the other hand, provides feedback on the person's travel history for the past 14 days, proving that he or she has not visited high-risk areas. It is used for travel tips and is not related to health status.
Data from a Chinese travel website platform shows that half an hour after the news of the "asterisk removal" was released, the number of searches for international air tickets on the platform instantly doubled, reaching its highest level in the past two years. At the same time, the number of searches for air tickets on the platform rose by 60% within 30 minutes, hotel searches doubled and train ticket searches rose by up to 1.5 times.
While the asterisk for travel cards is now history, however, Chinese netizens are finding that the travel ban has not been lifted. For example, in addition to carrying a nucleic acid test with them, citizens still need to be quarantined at home for seven days if they need to travel from a medium to a high-risk area to a low-risk area. And if you are travelling from a high-risk area to a low-risk area, you still need to be centrally quarantined by the government.
In a commentary, Guo Xiuhua, a professor of epidemiology at China's Capital Normal University, said the removal of the 'asterisk' mark from the travel card was justified and signalled China's move to align itself with the international pandemic prevention policies. She said, "China's epidemic prevention policy has always been strict compared to the international one, and now, in the face of the severe economic situation and the reduced mortality rate of the virus, it is time to relax the epidemic prevention policy in an orderly manner."
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