COVID-19 is not the first pandemic that the world has witnessed on a global scale but the challenges it posed were very different and difficult to deal with. The responses and strategies used by the government to fight the outbreak have been different in every country, depending on the prevailing situation they faced. Over the past few months, there has also been a wide range of technologies available not only to spread more awareness about the virus but also to give various platforms to the public to connect in times of crisis.
Better communication can help in reducing the risk of contagion by offering warnings about the hotbeds, and by educating the masses about the common symptoms. The coronavirus tracing and symptom reporting tools are the best innovations that have been of major help to the locals as well as the public health institutions. All hail the internet providers like RCN internet that made fast and consistent internet connectivity possible in these hard times, despite the increasing demands and usage. In this technological world, the internet has acted as a bridge to connect individuals with one another and with the public agencies amidst the social distancing, to stay informed, and follow the health updates to be safe.
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The contact tracing process has recently been playing a vital role in controlling the spread of coronavirus. Two of the biggest smartphone software tycoons, Google and Apple, seem to be collaborating to launch apps that can better identify individuals, who encountered an infected individual, so they can be informed. Here’s our take on it:
Mobile phones play a significant role when it comes to monitoring if the individuals are following the precautionary measures. Wi-Fi signals and GPS or the Global Positioning System are very helpful in tracking the location of the users. This location information can work as an effective tool to know if people, both individually and collectively, are following the SOPs and staying in their homes.
Wi-Fi and GPS can be used to pinpoint the individuals who have been in contact with a coronavirus-infected patient. These individuals can be tested and notified to quarantine instantly rather than staying unaware of the infection entering their bodies and infecting other people they meet. As we all know that the virus takes a couple of days or even a week to start showing symptoms, this doubles the risk and challenge. It is like a chain process that is very difficult to break. The contact tracing apps, therefore, are a potential solution to stop the rapid spread of the virus and stop healthy people from contracting it from the patients. When the patients are timely alerted of the infection and told to quarantine, it does not only increase their chances of recovery but also saves other people around them from contracting the virus.
In addition to GPS, Bluetooth is also a very good solution for contact tracing. This new method is far better as compared to the traditional tracing method that required more staff and a large number of interviews to inquire patients if they were traveling. People can simply turn the Bluetooth on and look up phones in the 10 to 15 feet range. It is more like a mobile phone handshake where phone users are notified if they’re near a patient and told to get tested or self-isolate themselves.
The next question that immediately pops into our minds is about privacy or security concerns. It is indeed a sensitive issue. The GPS data collected can pose privacy concerns for individuals, and also devalue the places that were visited by a COVID-positive person. Therefore, there are reservations regarding the security and privacy aspect involved in using GPS, Wi-Fi, or Bluetooth in the contact tracing process for the collection of data. When it comes to apps involved, Google and Apple mentioned that the app users would be voluntary.
Apple and Google also have plans to integrate a logging feature directly in the software all across the world. A person who gets infected will have to install an app to launch contact notifications. However, anyone with or without the app will be able to receive these contact notifications and get alerts.
As the aforementioned discussion suggests, the role of smartphone Wi-Fi, GPS and Bluetooth data can have a central role in making contact tracing possible. To make a positive impact, a country would have to make as much as 60% active contact tracing, so it can create a difference. Nonetheless, it will surely have a strong impact in combating the deadly virus.