Is Germany About to Take A Leaf Out of China’s COVID-19 Digital Playbook?

Germany’s health minister unveils plans to launch a color-coded digital app to confirm citizens’ COVID-19 vaccination status. Different colors will confer different rights.

The German people’s vaccination status will soon be “recognizable by color,” thanks to an upgrade to the Health Ministry’s Corona-Warn-App, reports German newspaper Berliner Zeitung. “Different colors will give different rights in the future,” the article notes, adding that a similar “system already exists in China.” Which is hardly comforting, especially given how some Chinese authorities appear to be abusing that system.

While many EU countries, including even neighboring Austria, have softened or suspended their COVID-19 vaccine passport restrictions, Germany’s Health Minister Karl Lauterbach seems determined to take them to a new level. This week, he unveiled Germany’s Corona plans for the autumn in the latest iteration of the so-called “Infection Protection Act”. Some of the proposed plans have not gone down well with the public. Even politicians and some newspapers are kicking up a stink.

Different Colors, Different Rights

Most controversial of all is the Health Ministry’s plan to repurpose the Corona-Warn-App into a color-coded system as a means of more easily corroborating people’s vaccination status. As already mentioned, the app’s different colors will confer different rights in the future. Those rights will apparently include the ability to access certain public places as well as the right not to wear a mask in hospitality venues. In order to qualify, you need to have been vaccinated in the past three months or have recently recovered from infection.

Lauterbach has previously stated that forcing the unvaccinated or undervaccinated to wear a mask in public — almost like a badge of shame — might cause them to reconsider their position on the vaccines: “It will certainly be an incentive… to think about whether they would like to be vaccinated.”

All of this no doubt sounds familiar to American readers. After all, it is a virtual replica of the Biden Administration’s “Mission Accomplished” mask reversal back in May ’21. As Yves noted at the time, “the CDC [thought] it was reasonable to operate on a vaccination honor system and have the vaccinated ditch masks and social distancing.” That was despite the fact that only 35% of Americans were fully vaccinated and it was not yet known whether “breakthrough” asymptomatic cases could spread the disease.

Now, we know they can. We also know that the current crop of vaccines do precious little when it comes to actually protecting against transmission of the virus. Lauterbach himself knows this from first-hand experience, given he is currently grappling with his second  COVID-19 infection — despite having received four shots of COVID-19 vaccines. Given what he knows about the vaccines’ leaky nature, encouraging, or perhaps better put, compelling recently vaccinated people to dump their masks makes zero sense from a public health perspective — unless, of course, the only goal is to maximize vaccination.

Of course, by the time the draft law is in place, in early October, Pfizer-BioNtech may have already launched its new Omicron-adapted vaccine. For the moment, the average rate of uptake for a second booster among adults in the EU is extremely low, at just 7.5%. That compares to 64% for the first booster. Of course, Lauterback’s policy proposals may help to boost demand for the largely German-manufactured product once it does hit the market.

Color-Coded Control

Germany’s color-coded app was developed by SAP and T-Systems, the IT services arm of Deutsche Telekom, and is an update on the previous system that showed whether someone falls into the 3G, 2G or 2G-plus (Germany’s Covid pass rules) category. A color coded system will apparently make it quicker and easier to process vaccine passport holders.

With the contract for the app set to expire at the end of 2022, its developers have been lobbying for the contract to be extended and its applications expanded, reports Der Spiegel. They argue that the app’s high level of support among the scientific and medical communities and its wide installation base mean that “it is far too good for a place in the Museum of Communication.” They would much prefer it either to be recalibrated as a general federal warning app or to be expanded to include the electronic patient file (ePA) of every citizen. So far the health ministry has rejected these proposals.

It’s worth noting that T-Systems has already played a key role in making the EU’s vaccine passport systems interoperable and was recently chosen by the World Health Organization (WHO) to do the same at a global level.

Of course, Germany would not be the first country to roll out a color-coded app as part of its COVID-19 response. Beijing has been operating one for some time, albeit not to denote a citizen’s vaccination status but rather the state of each person’s health, proximity to COVID-19 cases, “abnormal” PCR test results and failure to take a PCR test within the 3-7 day cycle (h/t bonks). Unlike Germany, China does not have a vaccine mandate. But as the article in Berliner Zeitung notes, the so-called “Health Code” apps do play a crucial role in the country:

The apps create movement profiles and display the state of [each person’s] health. Depending on the color, the users have different rights. A green code allows free movement while orange and red mean quarantine for up to two weeks… In China, you are not allowed to work, shop or ride the train without the right app colour.

The “Health Code” apps, now universally installed and accepted, can also be used to control citizens for other purposes, as the German state broadcaster Tagesschau reported in February (machine translated):

Wang Yu has not been able to move freely for some time. She is a lawyer in China — and a critic of the authoritarian Chinese regime. She has often been placed under house arrest. But recently the regime appears to have developed a different method: her health app does not show the green code — despite receiving three negative PCR test results. “As a lawyer, I had to deal with a case in court. But they changed my code to yellow,” says Wang Yu. “I was completely helpless. You can’t move at all, you can’t go anywhere.”

In the meantime, nothing works without the health app in China’s big cities: Wang Yu is turned away at the supermarket without the green code. She cannot board a taxi, bus, subway or train. In Beijing, even the entrances to apartments are monitored. Everyone lives within a gated compound with only one entry. Guards have set up their border posts there. Everyone has to scan the QR code with the health app and show the green code.

At first, Wang Yu couldn’t go to her home either. Because their app didn’t work again and again. The guards at the barrier to Wang Yu’s condominium would not let her in. After a heated argument, the guards let them pass. “But you don’t know what tomorrow will bring. Maybe the guard won’t let me through then. And I can’t break in here,” says the lawyer. What drives Wang Yu almost insane: Everything is based on arbitrariness. There are no laws governing the use of the health app. “I’m a lawyer. I love the law. I need precise rules to follow.” However, the Chinese parliament has not decided on this. “There is nothing. No paper, no regulations. The restrictions imposed by the app are completely illegal,” Wang Yu concludes.

In recent months local authorities in Central China even used the COVID-19 health app to prevent account holders from seeking access to funds that have been frozen by their banks. According to Asia Times, more than 400,000 depositors of six rural banks in Henan Province have been unable to withdraw their money since April. Yet when some of those depositors tried to travel to the banks’ headquarters to take part in protests, they suddenly found that the health code on their app had turned red, making them ineligible for travel.

As I’ve previously noted, the Western press tends to shine a bright light on the Chinese government’s deployment of new digital technologies to expand its surveillance and control of the Chinese population. That was certainly the case with the recent events in Henan Province. The BBC, Bloomberg, the New York Times, CBS, CNN and France 24 all covered the story at least once. Myriad reports, some absurdly overblown, have also been published over the years on China’s creeping introduction of a Social Credit System. Yet whenever the same highly intrusive technologies are being rolled out in so-called “liberal” Western democracies, the Western media is nowhere to be seen.

Back in Germany…

Lauterbach’s proposals are meeting strong resistance, both in the media and in political circles, particularly within the ranks of the SDP’s junior coalition party, the Free Democratic Party (FDP), and the two main opposition parties, the CDU and AfD. Like them, Germany’s widest read tabloid, Bild Zeitung, accuses Lauterbach of adopting “panic measures”. One article even posits that the renewed pressure to get vaccinated may form part of a plan to get rid of Germany’s huge stockpiles of surplus vaccines before they expire.

The small details of the proposals have been well set out in many newspapers, including the Allgemeine Zeitung Mainz, which carefully dissects the various measures before commenting clearly on each proposal. There are, it says, few objections to a proposal to reimpose FFP2 mask wearing on long-distance trains and flights from German airports from October 1 this year to April 7, 2023 (Good Friday). Where the paper takes issue is that the new measures will place a huge strain on hospitality, sport and cultural events if their respective staff and security guards have to check who is “freshly” jabbed (i.e. within the past 3 months), who is in recovery (i.e. have had the virus in the previous 3 months) and who needs to be tested on site (at the expense of the hospitality business).

The three-month period is out of step with other European countries applying six or nine-month periods. It also clashes with recommendations from the European Medicines Agency (EMA), which warned in January that boosting every few months is not a long-term option since it risks adversely affecting the immune system. It also goes against the recommendations of Stiko, the body of public health experts who report to the government.

“I don’t understand why you should be vaccinated every three months,” said CDU health expert Erwin Rüddel. “In all other European countries, planning for the Corona winter is handled differently.”

Even Lauterbach himself says he doesn’t expect people to get vaccinated every three months. Yet why set the limit for eligibility at three months? The new laws, if implemented in their present form, will provide an overarching need for compliance tempered by each of the 16 federal states having the right to add their own measures depending on the severity of any localised outbreak. But according to Rüddel, the draft proposals will probably be heavily watered down by the time they have completed their passage through the Bundestag.

Some civic-minded Germans may feel affronted by an article likening
what some would regard as relatively modest, if somewhat unenforceable, measures
with elements of China’s creeping high-tech dystopia. But it is worth remembering that Germany and Austria led the way back in 2021 in introducing (or at least trying to) lockdowns of the unvaccinated and universal vaccine mandates, even as it was becoming clear that the vaccines themselves offered zero hope of controlling the spread of the virus.


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    1. Randall Flagg

      Indeed. I wonder what the over/under line on comments to that comparison is in betting circles.

      1. Skip Intro

        Does it count if I observe that the app color coding is not helpful for color blind, so the color should be combined with a shape, Green Circle, Yellow Star, Pink Triangle…

    2. Nick Corbishley Post author

      Mein Gott! I just realized how the last two (now deleted) sentences of the article could be misconstrued. I was referring purely to Germany’s vaccine mandate and passport measures but I can see how they could be taken to mean so much more (bangs forehead against keyboard repeatedly). Thanks for the indirect heads up, Terry.

      1. Terry Flynn

        Being serious for a moment, I do wonder if the more obvious symptoms of past (long) COVID infection could be mistakenly used as indicators of being “unclean”. NC already drew attention to the study of 2 million of us Brits that gave an expanded list of symptoms of current/past infection.

        Skin issues are both very common and very obvious – alopecia being close to top. Two famous people who suffered from it during the pandemic and simply shaved off all remaining hair are the guy who in “Neighbours” played Dr Karl Kennedy and the wife of Will-Slappy-Smith (rumoured to be divorcing him). I bet they had COVID.

        I have had a couple of people look curiously at my (thankfully not too extensive yet) alopecia. Surgeon took biopsies Tuesday and it was clear this is becoming a procedure he didn’t do routinely but now is, calling in the dermatology consultant to advise on exactly which bits of my skull skin were to be excised. He showed me a fresh scar on his own skull from recent biopsy! Now at night to stop me scratching the stitches I’m wearing one of those faux fur Russian hats with ear muffs that tie under the chin as the only hat I won’t pull off during sleep…. At 32 degrees celcius here my sleep and mood are not exactly good! Seeing a patient enter the hospital wearing a t-shirt with anti mask sentiments on it just roiled me up further!

        1. Nick Corbishley Post author

          Terry, thanks for sharing your experience. It’s curious because I have experienced almost the exact opposite effect. Covid is nothing if not mindbogglingly random.

          As someone who has suffered from relatively mild eczema pretty much all of my adult life, I was very concerned that COVID might exacerbate my skin condition. Whenever I catch a bad cold, which thankfully is not very often, my skin always pays a high price. Yet the opposite has happened both times I’ve come down with COVID: my skin has got a lot better, even completely clearing on my hands for the first time in years. Perhaps it has something to do with my ingestion of a certain anti-parasitical compound during the first days of the illness, but there’s no way of knowing for sure. The bad news is that the effects seem to wear off after a few months.

          I wish you the best of luck and fortitude with your alopecia. Skin conditions are not easy to live with at the best of times. And these are not the best of times.

          1. J.

            I am sure the antiparasitic would help if your eczema was actually scabies, but more likely:

            – Your eczema is triggered by an allergy
            – Ordinary colds cause your immune response to ramp up, making it worse
            – Covid suppresses your immune system, making it better

            Not so random after all.

            Caveat: I am not a medical doctor and only speculating.

          2. scott s.

            I have a prescription for a topical cream that is 1% of that certain anti-parasitical and it works well. Unvaxed, unmasked and haven’t had Covid. Not saying there’s a relationship though.

          3. will rodgers horse

            how does this fit with CDCs moves yesterday to downgrade vaccine status differentiation. Seems to me in order for this to fly they need to upgrade that, not downgrade it.
            Yes I realize this is Germany and not the US but coordination seems to me to have been rather strong thus far.

        2. Basil Pesto

          It’s perhaps noteworthy that in China (Shanghai specifically iirc) that Covid infectees gave been discriminated against (with respect to employment etc)

    3. Sardonia

      Godwin’s Law doesn’t apply here, because no one needs to say a thing. Everyone just thinks it as they read this.

  1. Mikel

    Seems like only yesterday day they were screaming “let ‘er rip.”
    They wait until after it’s well-known that the shots don’t stop the spread of the virus to institute policies about shots?
    I think they’re more worried about their upcoming winter of discontent and all the soon to be discontented.

  2. bonks

    In China, the colour codes do not denote vaccination status, only proximity to positive cases and/or abnormal PCR test or not taking PCR tests within 3-7 days cycle. There’s no mandates for vaccines, though they will entice the elderly with free milk, rice and cooking oil. Rogue local/village leaders might impose their own arbitrary rules, but that doesn’t reflect overall Beijing policy.

    For what it’s worth, I live in Shanghai.

    1. Nick Corbishley Post author

      Thanks, Bonks, for the clarification. Will amend the text accordingly. But just one question: what do you mean by “abnormal PCR test”?

      1. bonks

        In a weekly/bi-weekly PCR-test required by respective district/township (the number changes depending on the covid situation, I have personally lost track), each test tube contains 10 cotton swabs (ie. 10 people)*. If a particular test tube returns a non-negative result, that would be considered abnormal, and a further testing will have to be carried out. Someone from the health department will go to the respective residences of the 10 people whose cotton swabs belong to the test tube that is not 100% negative and does individual PCR test on site.

        Bear in mind I do not have the full range of information on what can be constituted as abnormal. I have been through one or two situations where I should have an orange code but it remained green.

        *Only in emergency situations will we be required to do a one-person-one-tube PCR test.

    2. Mikel

      I never read anything about China having a shot mandate.
      So yeah, thanks for giving the on the ground account and clearing that up quickly.

    3. Anony

      Thanks for highlighting this. I was also thinking that the two are not at all comparable. The Chinese system uses recent PCR testing in Covid active areas. So they’re actually trying to block channels of transmission and bring cases down to “dynamic zero”. The German system is just forcing compliance for vaccinations that do not block transmission. One can argue whether the Chinese system is justified or not (public health versus freedom of movement), though my understanding is that they’re overwhelmingly supported by the population despite the hardships imposed. There is no comparable justification for the German solution.

    4. Ignacio

      Chinese are well aware that vac status means nothing regarding COVID (nearly nothing to be sure). This post is indicative of the road to idiocy taken by European elites and particularly German ones. I just can’t believe. And these are the “progressives”, mind you!

  3. The Rev Kev

    This does not sound like the Germany that I visited so many times. I don’t know what the hell this is. Trying to link access to society going by vaccination status was a pretty dodgy supposition last year when a re-infection could be done in only about five months. But to try to introduce this idea with a virus that has mutated to the point that you can be reinfected after only a months is just bizarre. There is only one explanation. Money. Perhaps the contracts that Germany signed with Pfizer and Moderna required them to buy x vaccines each and every year, and it did not matter if they were using them or not. Maybe trying to force people to take them, no matter what the effect that it will have on people’s health, is just a matter of trying to burnish the credentials of people like Olaf Scholz and Karl Lauterbach to the rest of the EU. Who knows? Look, if they want to go this way, why don’t they go full Star Trek and make people wear coloured shirts based on their status. But it would not be a good feeling if you found yourself wearing a red shirt-

    1. Olivier

      I am also at a loss to explain this marked and worrying deterioration. Maybe people like CJ Hopkins are onto something? I moved to Germany some 15 years ago partly because (for an EU state) it had a reasonably good track record on liberties. Now I am wondering whether if it might be time for me to leave. But to go where?

      These proposals are meeting with substantial resistance, though. I will be watching events this autumn and winter very closely and re-assess the situation in the spring of the next year.

      1. Mobile Heimat

        Olivier, I am with you there. Moved to Germany too a few years ago thinking that these people are rational and enough balls to stand their ground within the limits of being an occupied nation with some 100,000 foreign troops.
        I guess neoliberalism also infects your brains so it is impossible to think clearly. Also, Scholz and the others have so much dirt in their closets that would they be subject to the law they would go to jail for a long time. Wirecard and Cum-ex just to mention two known fraud cases.

      2. Duke of Prunes

        The story I have read numerous times on alternative news sites over the years is that, with unification, the East Germans have been steadily taking the govt over towards the goal of a making the unified Germany more like the old East German version.

        This certainly fits that narrative.

        1. nielsvaar

          This is nonsense.

          What we witness today is the logically extended maturation of West German neoliberal capitalism with a bioauthoritative flair. This is completely antithetical to the entire social structure and political stratification of the former DDR.

          Also, former DDR people are a minuscule political minority. We do see hotspots for fascists like AfD and NPD (and all of the little cells that splinter off of those) here in Saxony/Thüringen/Saxony-Anhalt, but these people are not powerful or influential, except perhaps at the shitty malls spattered throughout the decrepit, american-style rural wasteland.

    2. 1 Kings

      Except Scotty made it to the very end, Red Shirt and all.. Even to play the Pipes when Spock ‘left’ in that Photon torpedo..

  4. Klimashkina

    I’m not sure if you folks are in favour of this colour coding or not?

    Anyway, in EU I can’t see the next “vaccination” round being rolled out urgently, so I don’t see how this colour coding will work, unless things start to unravel, as one might expect, rolling into winter. But my vax status expires in October. No questions/signals of when I should get my next vac. I presume my friends/colleagues status has already run out.

  5. haywood

    So the only COVID mitigation policies they are keeping is the vaccine mandates and associated harassment procedures? Grreeeeaaaat.

    The CDC, to their credit (I guess), recently relaxed some of their obviously onerous impositions on the unvaccinated. Not like there’s much of any covid policy left to relax, at this point.

    I favored a vaccine mandates early on, but once it became clear these were not sterilizing vaccines, and that no clear universal mandate would be imposed, instead opting for a patchwork of employer and establishment based harassment schemes to encourage uptake, I decided the ethical issues surrounding forced vaccination were not worth it. Most places are coming around to that view, including China which has no vaccine mandate. Most places, except Germany, I guess.

      1. YankeeFrank

        Absolutely. I’m starting to prefer the US way of not caring about the people honestly. Better a govt that doesn’t care than one that “cares” so much it exerts totalitarian, kafkaesque control. There was a time when there was a rational approach to these kinds of issues and we understood the limits to power (whatever silly Game of Thrones-type ahistorical narratives claim otherwise) but I’m afraid current western “leaders” are having delusions of omnipotence likely due to the miraculous drug cocktails they’re all on.

        With the destruction of ethics in public health and everywhere else I prefer to go it alone.

          1. YankeeFrank

            I’ll take you up on that if I ever manage to do that x-country trip I’ve been planning. Cheers.

      2. Soredemos

        Hyperbole. A pandemic is exactly the kind of context in which it’s potentially justified to sacrifice individual liberty in the name of a collective good.

        In practice though, for covid specifically the vaccines do nothing to stop spread, and it’s beyond insane that there are people and institutions still pretending that they do. In the current context ‘liberty vs vaccines’ is a giant false choice, because the vaccines don’t do much.

        1. ggm

          I also think a rushed vaccine that was allowed to bypass the standard safety protocols should never have been mandated for anyone, but particularly not for low risk groups like children and those previously infected. It was very strange that the medical bureaucracy decided to pretend natural immunity was a conspiracy theory even while studies were showing previous infection conferred better protection than the vaccine after just a few months.

  6. shinola

    An app that indicates vax status implies that everyone carries a “smart” phone. There are still a few of us who refuse to be tethered to such devices.

  7. mastameta

    what is left unstated in the Reuters article is what this lawyer has previously done to supposedly have been under house arrest. or is house arrest just another description of her color code restrictions?
    when I hear lawyer, especially one prominently featured by MSM in a china piece with a totalitarian narrative, I think this is a NED asset. that’s more likely than the notion that this is just some regular person representative of the general population. who is organizing these protests? of course Reuters will call it organic without pursuing the issue. the article has all the marks of a psyops piece.

  8. JustTheFacts

    I have extremely strong feelings about this sort of thing. There seems to be no skin in the game for these people once they get into power. Lauterbach is an authoritarian traitor to Western ideals and customs. He has no business being in government, since he clearly doesn’t get that if vaccines aren’t sterilizing there is no justification for mandating them. Like the British, he needs to convince people, not force people, and if he can’t, he needs to figure out what he got wrong. Checks and balances improve governance.

    In fact, I find our governments in the West to be universally out of control. The (German) Greens were voted in to fix climate change. Instead they’ve become “Oliv Grünen” and support a war which is making climate change much worse. Biden was supposed to be an adult in the room. But instead he has increased frictions with 2 nuclear powers. At this point I’d prefer children to run the show. And the less said about Buffoon Johnson the better.

    I think we need a reform of democracy: if you get voted in, your election manifesto is a contract. Want to change the contract? Then you have to have a referendum. If you’re in breach of your election manifesto contract, you lose power forever and have a prolonged visit to the vilest prison your country has. (which might also have the beneficial side-effect of making prisons more humane.)

    This is not particularly factual, for which I’m sorry, but what is becoming of the “free” West?

    1. Olivier

      Lauterbach totally gets that the current vaccines are not sterilizing. Sometime last year he said something to the effect (I can’t remember the exact german words) that if the vaccines were sterilizing we’d be having a different discussion (i.e., presumably there would have been a hard jabbing mandate). So he knows.

  9. will rodgers horse

    Surely the idea that this electronic passport is what this is mostly about and has been about it not one to be lightly discredited? I think that the desire for ‘one ring to bind them all’ is rather universal amongst leaders worldwide.

    1. Late Introvert

      They are rightly afraid of us. My gut is this type of digital tracking will continue to flare up but people won’t stand for it. Germans are orderly rule followers? Is that the reason they are trotting it out there? Kill it with fire as Lambert would say.

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