Downloading apps can save lives

IT has been argued that we cannot possibly be in an extended suspension of our activities, especially since no one knows how long before a vaccine can be found for Covid-19 or that coronavirus miraculously mutates into something benign or we develop an immunity to it.

So, as we strive towards normalcy, whatever that may be, by opening, albeit bit by bit, we need to be able to keep an eye on potential flare-ups and sniff out emerging clusters.

This is where contact tracing is important — essentially, if someone gets infected, we will be able to know who he had been in contact with, as well as when and where.

We can also extrapolate to whom he could possibly spread the virus, including possible secondary infections.

It is generally accepted that there will likely be more Covid-19 cases, including deaths, as we open up and people mingle at work, public places, in buses and trains, at restaurants and malls, and in private homes.

This is where the convergence of technology and public health will be extremely helpful in tracking the coronavirus' path. Purpose-built mobile telephony applications and the triangulations of cellular towers will allow for better monitoring, tracing and tracking of infections.

The government has come up with the MyTrace and MySejahtera applications, which in a nutshell, are the quintessential I-know-someone-who-knows-someone-who-knows-someone kind of applications that will be able to trace people whom you may have come into contact with, whether at the mamak outlet or a friend's place.

To be honest, I have downloaded the app but I am not really sure how it works. I am likely to be a Luddite, but I suppose it is people like me who want to do the right thing that need helping.

Right now, the contact tracing carried out, given the technology out there, is almost mediaeval.

I have to write down my name, phone number as well as my temperature in a logbook before I can shop.

Presumably, if someone were to be tested positive at the shop, then the Health Ministry would be able to contact all those people listed.

These days with location tracking where your ride can find you, and the digital blob that is the QR Codes that are able to come up with millions of unique identities, with potentially billions of combinations, it should be easier to develop a more efficient tracer.

Currently, I believe downloading MyTrace or MySejahtera is a voluntary act. However, there should be compulsion, either by legal requirement or otherwise, so that the technology can function better. Just like the traffic applications we have on our phones, the more people use them, the more accurate they become.

Some may object to having to download something that has the potential of keeping track of them, but to this I say, there is a greater good.

Perhaps the authorities can compel premises' owners, be they shops, offices, restaurants, petrol pumps, etc, to be tracing partners so that we can just whip out our phones and scan some QR codes before we enter any premises. When the delivery guys come calling, we can take our phones and they can scan the QR Codes generated.

For those less inclined, they can stand in line and record their details as per usual.

The government must explain well what it is all about, and allay fears of any misuse.

Perhaps there should be campaigns and advertising blitzes to get people on board to keep an eye on the coronavirus.

If people are willing to accept the realities of movement control with the attendant loss of liberties and economic opportunities, I believe it is not a tough sell to suggest it is our duty as citizens to help contain the infection.

I believe the applications can be developed and improved further, and later be kept for other uses, too, hopefully when this pandemic is over.

It could be an information outlet for public announcements, such as on flood and traffic, for instance.

There is likely to be a debate between civil liberties, as in the need to protect one's information and public interest in general.

It is a popular concept in the West that individual rights are as important as public interest, if not more, while we in the East generally subscribe to the notion of the greater good.

Hence, while countries like China and South Korea seem able to manage their Covid-19 better, Western democracies are leaders in the number of cases and deaths.

I, too, subscribe to individual rights, but we do have a deadly pandemic now. The good of the many, or society, should trump that of the individuals. We need pragmatism to temper our idealism to save lives.

It is not a call to suspend personal liberties, but it is a call for everyone to do his bit.

We should be able to risk some semblance of our privacy by downloading such applications, even as we ask the frontliners to risk their lives.

Ironically, we give out more personal details through all our social media interactions, computer searches, e-wallet transactions, online purchases, messaging, content consumption, and almost all the things we do over the Internet with little or no public good.

Yet, downloading these apps can save lives.

Source: New Straits Times

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