China’s latest weapon against Covid-19 is a girl band in Shanghai

One of China’s top girl bands got a new ambassador stint. It’s not for a brand but for China’s vaccination drive.

China has vaccinated one of the largest cohorts globally, with 243.9 million doses given at the end of April, compared with 246 million doses administered in the US. But given its population of 1.4 billion, China still has a long way to go before it can reach its goal of vaccinating 40% of its citizens by June. To accelerate the rollout, local governments have been trying to entice people to get the shots by giving benefits. Many in China feel the vaccine isn’t needed because of the government’s successful control of the pandemic.

SNH48 is Hongkou’s official vaccination campaign ambassador

Compared to incentives such as free eggs or store coupons, the perk given by a Shanghai district could appeal more to youngsters. On April 30, the Hongkou district named SNH48, a Chinese girl band as its official ambassador for its vaccination campaign. The band’s theater, where its fans attend performances and interact with the group, is located in Hongkou.

On the poster, below the image of five members of the band the caption reads “[let’s] build the immunity barrier together, both you and I can help.” On the top left of the poster, there are also keywords from China’s “core socialist values,” a doctrine promoted by the Party to enhance citizens’ faith in the moral values of the country, including prosperity, democracy, and civility, among others.

The recruitment of SNH48 already seems to be working. The district originally planned to set up a mobile vaccination clinic outside the band’s theater this week, but the plan had to be scrapped due to the overwhelming response from its fans, according to the band’s company Shanghai Star48 Culture & Media. “The people who made appointments to be vaccinated at the clinic far exceeded the amount it could accommodate,” it said on May 1 in a post on Weibo, a Twitter-like service in China.

Getting a stamp for getting a shot

Those who get vaccinated this week can still get a special stamp—named “building immunity barrier together”—at the theater from two members, according to the company. Similar to pop-music groups in Japan and South Korea, SNH48’s members are young girls from across the country selected by the company in auditions to form multiple singing and dancing teams. A major selling point of the band is its members’ closeness with their fans. The girls hold regular activities such as “handshaking gathering,” sessions where their fans interact with them face-to-face, as well as putting stamps on a “passport”—a pamphlet fans purchase from the company to collect seals from the band at events. A certain number of seals sometimes earns fans rewards like taking a picture with their favorite band members.

Other Chinese efforts promoting Covid-19 vaccinations

Besides the girl band, China’s Shandong province also invented a creative way to boost its vaccination campaign. The province gives those who have received two Covid shots a golden “health code.” It’s a colored digital bar code that indicates people’s health status through a smartphone app. Originally adopted after the first coronavirus outbreaks last year, the code usually only has three colors: green, red, and yellow. The new code meanwhile adds a golden frame and emojis of Covid-19 vaccination shots and a shield to the green code. (Green means the person is allowed to move around freely.) The effort was praised by Chinese state media Xinhua as “creating a low budget way to encourage people to be vaccinated.”

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