While many people were registered for testing by their employers or residential communities because of known links to the market, Fu Juan, 38, said she was spotted by big data. The process was quick but unnerving, she said, and began with a “suspicious” phone call from someone claiming to work for a disease control unit of the Beijing municipal government.
“I was told that big data showed that I had been to Xinfadi recently, hence I should register with my neighbourhood to get a nucleic acid test as soon as possible. My first impression is that it must be a fraud. I’ve never shopped at Xinfadi,” she said.
“Then my husband reminded me. I had picked him up somewhere 3km (1.8 miles) away from Xinfadi several days before. But I was in the car all the time.
Before she had an opportunity to check whether the call was genuine, community cadres had knocked on her door to obtain her identity information and persuaded her to get tested. The next day, it was arranged for her to attend a testing site at a stadium and, one day later, Fu received the result, which was negative.
“The whole process was impressively fast,” Fu said. “When I was lining up for the test with thousands of people in the stadium, I was shocked by the capability, that China can identify so many people so quickly and get them tested.”
In the neighbouring municipality of Tianjin, Wu Zhengyu, a 51-year-old teacher at a chess training centre, was also required last week to test for Covid-19 after returning from Beijing in early June. “I was in Beijing before the first case was reported. I probably passed by the Xinfadi area in the subway, but I’ve never been to the market,” Wu said.
“However, I was told big data had spotted me and unless I was tested, my daughter could not go to school.” Wu said the test had cost him 200 yuan (US$28) and he was unable to continue teaching while under home quarantine. “I feel helpless. But who can I complain to? I was lectured by community cadres that all was for the sake of coronavirus control.”