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China urges to bridge the digital divide for the elderly as everything goes online

Written by Wency Chen Published on   2 mins read

What is convenient for millennials might create obstacles for many seniors.

In a bid to ease the life of senior citizens in the digital era, China’s State Council on Monday released a national guideline, requiring local governments and departments to provide proper services to non-netizens in scenarios that include payments through smartphones, hailing a taxi from an app, and getting hospital appointments.

“China’s aging population is growing rapidly, many elderly people do not have access to the internet and do not use smartphones, so they encounter inconveniences in their daily lives such as travel, medical treatment, and shopping, and cannot fully enjoy the convenience of smart digital services,” reads the document.

To comply with the guidelines, service providers should take an approach that combines traditional and smart methods to help senior citizens adapt to the technology transformation. The state council points out seven categories—emergency response situations, daily transport, medical care, payment, recreational activities, social services, and smart device usage.

The smartphone-based “health code” system, for example, which was set up this year to check people’s movements and physical conditions amid the pandemic, will no longer be the only required proof that people have entered public places. The elderly and those who don’t have smartphones can use alternatives such as paper certificates or their IDs to register. The initiative also requires public transport operators to continue allowing the usage of cash, certificates, documents, and other ‘traditional’ means of payment and identification.

This week, a video on Chinese microblogging site Weibo, showing an older woman in the Hubei province whose request to pay her health insurance with cash was refused, stirred widespread discussions. “Tell your relatives or use smartphones to pay by yourself, either way,” the officer said, leaving the old lady confused and helpless.

“The information era is abandoning a cohort of people,” a Weibo user commented on the video. “My parents don’t know how to pay the electric bill via smartphone and have to ask me to do this for them,” he wrote.

Data from the National Bureau of Statistics showed that the older Chinese population aged 65 years and above reached 176 million by the end of 2019, and was projected to expand to 210 million in 2025. The proportion of older people will increase from 12.6% in 2017 to 15% in 2050.


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