China announced Monday it would end the use of a travel tracking app as it continues to lift COVID-19 restrictions. File Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI | License Photo
Dec. 12 (UPI) -- China announced Monday that it would stop operating a travel tracing app amid a rapid withdrawal from years of zero-COVID policies in the wake of widespread protests against the strict regulations.
The "mobile itinerary code," which was operated by China's largest telecom companies, tracked a user's location history over a 14-day period. The app would flag if someone entered an area considered a hotspot, which could then lead to mandatory quarantine or a ban from entering public spaces.
The digital tracking service will stop working across all platforms at midnight on Tuesday, Chinese authorities said.
"Mobile itinerary code SMS, webpage, WeChat extension, Alipay extension, app and other inquiry channels will go offline simultaneously," the country's Academy of Information and Communications Technology said in a statement.
The move follows Beijing's sudden announcement last week that it was lifting many of the zero-COVID policies that had been in place for nearly three years.
Under 10-point guidelines released Wednesday by China's National Health Commission, large-scale lockdowns are being curtailed and people with mild or no symptoms are now allowed to isolate at home rather than being forced into government camps.
Frequent COVID-19 tests and a separate health QR code app are also no longer necessary to enter most public facilities.
The policy changes came on the heels of protests that broke out across the country late last month, with thousands taking to the streets in the greatest show of unrest that China has seen in decades. In some cases, demands for easing COVID-19 policies expanded into calls for Chinese President Xi Jinping and the ruling Communist Party to step down.
Outrage boiled over after a fire in Urumqi, capital of the far western region of Xinjiang, killed 10 people who had been quarantined. The blaze and deaths sparked accusations that the lockdowns, which had been in place in much of Xinjiang for more than three months, hampered rescue efforts.
Public anger had long been simmering over the heavy restrictions, which led to extreme measures such as a two-month citywide lockdown in financial hub Shanghai this year.
At a cabinet meeting of Xi's government on Thursday, officials ordered hospitals to add staff and ICU capacity to prepare for a surge of cases, while health authorities have called for an intensified rollout of vaccine booster doses.