2 min read

MERICS Web Seminar: Approaches to data-driven Covid-19 management in China

In the global Covid-19 crisis, European governments find themselves struggling to decide on how to use digital technologies appropriately. They hope that using contact tracing apps can rekindle the economy while curbing the “R rate” – the rate of new infections – and keep the outbreak at bay. At the same time, governments have to strike a difficult balance between personal data protection on one hand and effective data collection and analysis on the other.   

By contrast, China’s government and companies did deploy data-driven solutions early on to combat the virus. They swiftly turned to AI-based and Big Data solutions for crisis management, enforcing their use across multiple sectors. The efficacy of China’s data-driven management approach to Covid-19 has revealed a mixed picture. Beijing's speed of technological adaptation and adoption reflects its ability to meet urgent political needs, and to some extent its capacity to use technological solutions in the face of a public health crisis. The digital measures have contributed to an enhanced perception of public security among China’s citizens. However, this has come at the expense of personal data protection. China’s approach has also exposed weaknesses in technical functionality and limitations on the central and local authorities’ ability to secure full public support without greatly improving personal data protection.

Therefore, looking at China can offer a valuable window into the future for Europe. But it is also important to recognize some of the specific features of China’s approach that limit its relevance and applicability for other countries.

In this web seminar, MERICS Analysts Katja Drinhausen and Kai von Carnap presented MERICS research on China’s data-driven management of Covid-19. The study was supported by the Vodafone Institute.

Inger Paus, Managing Director of the Vodafone Institute and Chairwoman of the Management Board of Vodafone Foundation Germany, Hinrich Thoelken, Special Envoy for digitalization and digital transformation at the German Federal Foreign Office, and Peter Parycek, Head of Center of Competence Public IT at Fraunhofer FOKUS, and Kristin Shi-Kupfer, MERICS Research Director Politics and Society, joined to contribute their insights and debate implications for Europe. Claudia Wessling, Director Publications at MERICS, moderated the web seminar and closed the session with a Q&A round.