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Beijing tries to bridge digital gap for elderly

Zhao Yimeng
Updated: Jan 27,2021 10:18 AM    China Daily

Beijing will step up efforts to bridge the digital divide faced by seniors and provide them with convenient and smart life services, the city's government work report said.

How to solve the difficulties elderly people have in accessing healthcare services and daily necessities via smart devices was a heated topic among legislators and political advisers at their sessions this year.

One of the 31 civil affairs projects Beijing will launch this year will help seniors use smart devices while ensuring traditional service channels remain available for them at public places like hospitals, parks, supermarkets, transport stations, banks, and hotels.

At the end of last year, pilot projects were launched in the city to facilitate seniors' travel under strict epidemic prevention measures by adding health information to their senior cards, freeing them from having to check health codes on smartphones.

"When the majority has benefited from technological development, we should also provide services for seniors who find it difficult to use the internet and smart devices," said Li Li, a political adviser and CEO of NetEase Media Group.

Li suggested keeping traditional service counters for the elderly or organizing helpers to teach them how to use smart devices.

Because the elderly faced difficulties in using the health code — a digital pass that shows the users' health status on smartphones when entering public places under virus control measures-she said enabling them to use another form of identification, such as the senior's card used in the pilot projects, should be expanded across the city.

With the increasing use of mobile payments and online administration of people's lives, it's more difficult for seniors to travel, shop, and deal with daily issues, political adviser Chen Xiaoyan told Beijing News.

She suggested the government should train more elderly people to better understand smart products, and build a platform to serve and ensure seniors' lives in all respects, she said.

Beijing is working on establishing a big data platform covering all of its senior citizens to build a comprehensive, scientific and effective risk prevention mechanism for them, Beijing Daily reported on Jan 25.

China had 254 million people aged 60 or above by the end of 2019 — 18.1 percent of the country's population — according to the National Bureau of Statistics, and the Ministry of Civil Affairs estimates the number will exceed 300 million in the next five years.

However, by June last year, internet users aged 60 or above accounted for just 10.3 percent of the country's 940 million netizens, the China Internet Network Information Center said in a report released in September.

The State Council launched a program in November to mitigate the difficulties seniors have in using information technology, stipulating the responsibilities of various departments.

The program includes major tasks such as optimizing health code management, improving car-ailing services, providing multiple channels for hospital registration, and making sure seniors can use cash to make purchases.

Beijing will implement the program by enhancing information technology education for elderly people and encourage social sectors and family members to teach elderly people, Yu Luming, director of the Municipal Committee on Aging, said on Jan 25.

"More research and development should be put into customized smart products for senior citizens," Yu said.