The Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is an infectious disease caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). As of April 2020, it has infected at least 2.2 million people around the world, causing around 150,000 deaths. The disease has led countries to implement lockdowns and community quarantines to prevent further spread of the virus and to give countries time to strengthen their respective healthcare systems.
While physical distancing and massive testing are seen as primary measures to defeat the virus, countries from across the globe are also taking advantage of information and communications technology (ICT) in an effort to control the spread of the disease. In this blog, we will look at some applications used by countries in Asia to battle COVID-19.
South Korea is one of the first countries in the world to manage the outbreak through aggressive mass testing. It used ICT as one of its cornerstones to prevent COVID-19. Among the ICT tools it used are the following:
The Ministry of Health launched a COVID19 dashboard showing daily updates such as new cases, recoveries, and deaths. It shows the number of tests done, and the number of people who tested positive. The dashboard also features a map indicating the current number of COVID-19 cases per province. Thus, the dashboard has become the main source of COVID-related news/government briefs being shared with citizens.
Managed by the Ministry of Food and Drugs, this website shows the current status of face masks, hand sanitizers, and other important supplies available to the public for preventing COVID-19. It also has a report center where the public can report stores that sell face masks and sanitizers beyond the suggested selling price. The public can also report stores that unilaterally cancel online deliveries.
The Ministry of Health also published a website listing all health facilities, testing centers, as well as mobile testing centers in the whole country. This has greatly contributed to the mass testing effort as it provides information to the public on how to contact or reach particular testing facilities. Data on the status of testing centers are also made available to the public
Location of Testing Centers and Respiratory Hospitals
Singapore made headway in the prevention of COVID-19 via active contact tracing and by providing clear information to its citizens. The following are some remarkable tools used in Singapore.
The TraceTogether App was developed by the Singapore Government Technology Agency. It can be downloaded by anyone with a Singapore mobile number and a blue tooth-enabled phone. The application enables the Ministry of Health to determine persons who were in contact with a confirmed case. This is done by locating mobile phone owners that were in close contact (less than 5 meters) with the mobile phone of the confirmed case. The Ministry of Health can then now easily contact these people using the registered mobile phone numbers provided.
The Singaporean government has also designed a dashboard showing the current status of COVID-19 cases in Singapore. One component of the dashboard is a network visualization of the cases. The network shows the relation of the confirmed cases with each other. It also contains a page where Singaporeans can donate money to help the dashboard be deployed in other countries as well.
The Government has set-up a WhatsApp group where it can easily disseminate information to the public. It was launched to combat the possibility of wrong information or fake news being shared on social media.
Singapore Government Whatsapp
Despite having one of the earliest cases of COVID-19 in the region, the Thai government has managed to reduce the number of infections and has been using ICT intensively to control further spread of the virus.
One interesting application from Thailand is the Mor Chana App. This mobile application has been a joint venture between the government and the private sector. The application can help agencies conduct contact tracing and also help people assess their COVID-19 infection risk. It uses GPS and Bluetooth to determine if a person has been exposed to the virus. Health authorities can also use this information to minimize the risk of contagion from potential cases.
Morcha Na App used for Contact tracing in Thailand
Malaysia has also been using ICTs for its COVID-19 prevention efforts.
In Malaysia, aside from the usual dashboards and mobile applications, one novel innovation is the Kitajagakita Website. This website is a one-stop shop for civil society efforts in relation to COVID-19. It facilitates solicitation of funds to finance projects which aim to help those affected both by the virus and by the lockdown. Donors can check the website to donate to a project that they want to support.
Viet Nam is also one of the countries who has implemented simple yet effective measures in battling COVID-19 head-on. They swiftly addressed the public health emergency by implementing forced quarantines along with contact tracing, testing, and physical distancing. As a result, the country has one of the lowest infection rates in the region. ICT has been also used by the government to help in controlling the virus.
The Viet Nam government created a dashboard to show updated aggregated case reports in the country. It also shows the number of cases and recoveries per locality. The dashboard contains the latest reports/news from government agencies in relation to COVID-19 prevention. It also invites the public to ask questions online, provide feedback, and even report fake news.
The NCOVI App is a tool where the health status of users and their family members may be reported. It provides information to health authorities to quickly localize, isolate potential patients, and provide medical support if necessary. The application can also be used by visitors who are entering Viet Nam. Users can easily share their health status with other people through a QR code.
Despite ICT infrastructure issues, the Philippines also uses ICT in the fight against COVID-19.
The dashboard presents aggregated data on COVID-19 cases in the Philippines. It has a quick-count functionality where LGUs can report cases of COVID19 in their localities. It has a GIS map where locations of different cases are mapped. It also shows the location of the nearest health facilities and testing centers. The website also has an embedded symptoms checker based on the guidelines of the Department of Health.
What is unique in the dashboard is that it includes data on testing per testing facility. It also presents available beds, ventilators, equipment, and supplies in hospitals. This can determine if the health system is already overwhelmed by the number of COVID19 patients in the country. All data presented in the tracker may be downloaded for analysis.
The Philippine General Hospital launched the Tele-Kamusta program where patients currently confined in the hospital can call their families through online videos. This application lifts the hearts of the patients as they get to connect with their families virtually despite being isolated in a health facility. Given the difficulty of internet connection in the Philippines, the application is one way of connecting people via local connection.
From this quick survey of applications, we can see that the countries are using ICT to combat COVID-19. One of the most common applications used by countries is a national COVID-19 dashboard. Most, if not all countries, have their respective dashboards. Since dashboards are a common way to share data with the general public, it is vital that a proper reporting protocol is followed. Extensive validation is needed to ensure that correct data are placed on the dashboard. It is also essential that reporting applications be made available to health facilities to ensure real-time submission of data.
It can also be seen that countries are using mobile applications so that it will be easier for people to push data, or to get information from the government. Contact tracing applications would work because they are using standardized technologies like blue tooths or GPS. They also work because each participant has a registered mobile number, which serves as the ID. The ideal scenario is for data to be submitted to a common platform, regardless of the technology being used by the reporting applications. In an ideal scenario, contract tracing applications should be tied to these dashboards to quickly report the number of probable or suspect COVID-19 cases.
This is a use case where interoperability comes in: Data should be shared whenever needed! While quick solutions are needed right now given the fluidity of the solutions, this is also a good time for countries to see the value of having interoperable digital health systems, maybe not for COVID-19, but for future health crises that countries will face.