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In China, as part of the alleged “zero COVID” control system, everyone is required to have a government-issued Q-code app on their phones that serves as a “health tracker.” If you have a negative COVID test and have not been “tracked” to an area where infections are being reported, your Q-code is green and you are (usually) free to proceed. This is much the same as the New York “Empire Pass” system that was in use during the lockdowns. But if you either test positive or are “tracked” in the vicinity of others who have tested positive, the code turns red and you are forbidden from most public spaces, public transportation, and social activities.

That’s scary enough to begin with when observed from a western perspective. But many residents of rural portions of China recently learned the hard way that the Chinese Communist Party is using the tracker for a lot more than health reasons. There was recently a banking scandal involving several smaller, rural banks, where a banking executive was accused of stealing large sums of money from the banks’ coffers and going on the run. When residents learned of this, many attempted to travel to towns where the banks had physical branches to withdraw their money while they could. But upon arriving, most of them found that their health tracker codes had mysteriously turned red despite having negative COVID tests and the towns not being listed as infection hotspots. They were locked out of the banks, their hotels, and other resources. (Associated Press)

Unable to resolve the issue online, customers set out earlier this week to demand government action at Henan province’s office of the China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission in the provincial capital Zhengzhou. But after arriving in the city, they found they couldn’t go far.

In one since-deleted account published on WeChat, a woman surnamed Ai had arrived in Zhengzhou. Shortly after checking into a hotel, she was questioned by a group of police who asked her why she was in Zhengzhou. She replied honestly: To withdraw money from the bank. Shortly after, she found her health code was turned red even though she had a negative COVID-19 test result from the past 48 hours.

She was immediately taken to a quarantine hotel by a pandemic prevention worker.

Dozens of people immediately reported the same experience to an online news outlet. (Their report on these events quickly disappeared.) Banks, train stations, hotels, and grocery stores all have these Q-code scanners installed. If the government flags you with a red code, you basically can’t go anywhere. And since the phone monitors your location at all times, it’s very simple for authorities to track you down and take you to a quarantine facility. That’s precisely what China is doing to stop people from “disrupting” the banking system or otherwise “causing trouble.”

It’s easy enough to point at this story and say, ‘well, that’s China for you. It could never happen here.’ But how sure are you about that? Once we had vaccination status tracking systems and databases installed all across the country, the infrastructure to do precisely what China is doing was already in place. And now, even after the pandemic is supposed to be largely behind us, the President and state legislatures are already talking about declaring all sorts of other “declared states of emergency.” We may have “emergencies” over everything from gun violence to climate change on the horizon.

Once a state of emergency is declared, the executive branches of the various governments inherit all manner of unchecked power. We’ve already seen what happens after that takes place. And it’s not just in the United States. Look at what’s going on in Canada with Justin Trudeau at the moment.

None of this has happened here yet, or at least not to the extent that we’re seeing in China and Canada. But the tools are in place for something similar to happen on short notice if the government can sell us on another “state of emergency.” Everyone really needs to remain vigilant. It’s been getting very Orwellian out there for quite a while now. And you wouldn’t want to wind up in a “quarantine hotel” because you said or did something the government didn’t approve of, would you?