Gov’t to launch COVID-19 contact tracing app
MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine government is testing a new contact tracing smartphone app to aid its fight against the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
National Privacy Commission (NPC) chair Raymund Liboro told the Inquirer they were assisting a team of 15 software engineers and designers from the University of the Philippines (UP) to launch the app to the public soon.
“We are now ready to do beta testing,” Liboro said, referring to the stage of testing where real users will be invited to sample the technology. “The tech group from UP has stepped up to the plate.”
Identify infected people
Contact tracing is used to identify people that had encounters with someone infected with COVID-19. This allows health authorities to quickly isolate potential new cases, slowing or halting the spread of the disease.
Liboro said the NPC was helping ensure that the privacy of users would be protected.
He said the UP-developed app would share features with the Singaporean government’s TraceTogether mobile app. It would also have enhancements to deal with the country’s unique situation, such as the still-extensive number of Filipinos without a smartphone.
TraceTogether uses Bluetooth to keep records of phones that also have the app installed.
Once a COVID-19 case is confirmed, the Singaporean government can access the user’s data within app, which stores information such as physical distance and the length of time contact was made over the last 21 days.
Liboro said their version would also use Bluetooth technology. But it has the added feature of detecting Bluetooth signals from more basic feature phones without the app.
There is still no definitive launch date, Liboro said. But more contact tracing options will be necessary as the government mulls the lifting of a lockdown in Luzon in the coming weeks.
Technology solutions are thus being explored to hasten the arduous contact tracing process, which is led by the Bureau of Quarantine.
Local government units also carry out their own contact tracing. Some LGUs are ahead of the national government in this regard.
Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia recently required Cebuanos to install the locally-developed WeTrace app, which is currently available for Android mobile devices.
The Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) had separately sought assistance from Singapore.
According to the DICT, Secretary Gregorio B. Honasan II wrote Singaporean Ambassador Gerard Ho Wei Hong for information about TraceTogether.
“In response, Ambassador Ho Wei Hong said Singapore is willing to provide technical assistance to DICT regarding the matter,” the DICT, a member of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Disease, said in a statement on Sunday.
TraceTogether, launched last March 20, is a valuable tool in the city state’s efforts to contain COVID-19.
Singapore has 1,189 confirmed COVID-19 cases and five deaths while the Philippines has 3,094 cases and 144 deaths, latest data from the World Health Organization showed. INQ
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