COVID-19 Edition: Contact Tracing
Contact Tracing has been around since the start of the COVID-19 wave in Singapore. Contact tracers from the Ministry of Health and the Singapore Armed Forces have been working round the clock to ensure that the affected individuals and those around them are accounted for, in order to prevent the spread of the disease in Singapore.
The Singapore Government’s efforts to facilitate contact tracing includes the development and the use of the TraceTogether mobile application. It adopts a community-driven approach to combat the spread of COVID-19 by identifying people who have been in close proximity – within two metres for at least 30 minutes – with coronavirus patients using Bluetooth.
The public has been strongly encouraged to download this application, as it allows the Ministry Of Health (MOH) to contact the affected people quickly, and obtain the list of close contacts without the need to collate one’s domestic travel history.
This information is stored securely on the phone, and only shared with the Ministry of Health (MOH) if a user tests positive for COVID-19. Furthermore, the Bluetooth information stored on the phones after 25 days is automatically deleted.
However, this application has a certain drawback to it. By constantly keeping your Bluetooth on, you can drain your phone’s battery pretty quickly. If you’re out for the entire day, don’t forget to bring a portable charger!
The app will cease all functionality at the end of the outbreak.
SwiftMED is another mobile application to support contact tracing efforts in your own organisation, unlike TraceTogether. It has four functions – Health Declaration, Temperature Log, Push Notifications and contact tracing. The contact tracing function makes use of your phone’s Bluetooth function to update other users of your presence within 2.5 meters, every 5 minutes.
The notification process if you have been in close-contact with an identified COVID-19 patient works in two ways.
One, you may be contacted by the contact tracing team to notify that you were in close-contact with a COVID-19 patient. Then, a push notification will be sent to you through the application. It will inform you of the steps to take.
How do the contact tracing efforts of other countries fare against measures that are already in place in Singapore? Let’s start with our friendly neighbours across the border, Malaysia.
As some of you might know, Malaysia’s government has imposed a mandatory Movement Control Order (MCO) on its citizens. It was implemented as a preventive measure by the federal government of Malaysia in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The National Security Council (NSC) in Malaysia requires the general public to download the government’s MySejahtera app for contact tracing purposes, according to new standard operating procedures.
The Recovery Movement Control Order, (RMCO) which is in effect until August 31, either require or encourage the use of the MySejahtera app for contact tracing in the event of COVID-19 outbreaks, except child care centres and old folks’ homes. You can check out their website here.
As of 25 July 2020, Indonesia has reported 97,286 cases, the highest in Southeast Asia thus far.
The Communications and Information Ministry in Indonesia, in collaboration with the State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs) Ministry, have jointly developed a mobile app similar to Malaysia’s MySejahtera app and Singapore’s TraceTogether.
Dubbed PeduliLindungi, it functions in the exact same way as the aforementioned applications developed by Malaysia and Singapore. Check out their website here.
South Korea is one of the first countries in the world to bring a major COVID-19 outbreak under control. They have seen a diminishing number of infected people since. However, they’ve taken a different approach to contact tracing altogether.
New arrivals to the country have to download an app that tracks their location and requires symptom reporting. Even those without symptoms are forced to self-quarantine for two weeks. After this period, the app displays a message saying they’re allowed to delete the app from their phone.
South Korea has started building a smart city database to monitor traffic and pollution across cities. In this case, that same infrastructure will be used to track COVID-19, according to this Reuters report.
Health authorities use CCTV footage, credit card transaction data, travel information, and location data to keep track of the patients.
It would simply take about ten minutes to find out where a particular patient traveled over one day, according to Reuters.
Contract tracing has been quintessential in curbing the spread of COVID-19 around the world. Technological advancements and the development of artificial intelligence have both made combatting a disease without physical means possible.
Think about it! If the same technology existed back then, and was used during the SARS, Bird Flu and even the H1N1 periods, how different would the casualty rates be? Let’s not take technology for granted, and work on ideas that will alter the course of a new pandemic in the future.