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Government’s relentless war with COVID-19: From Track and trace apps, drones to launching fact check sites

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s mantra to the chief ministers was to track, trace, isolate and quarantine. The objective from hereon would be to not let the cases reach beyond the capacity of the healthcare system to effectively treat the infections. To that end, states after states have launched apps to track and trace positive cases and keep vigil

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Telangana fights COVID-19 with an integrated five module ‘TCOVID-19 platform’
The Telangana Government was thronged with suggestions on the ways to rein in the COVID-19 crises. Industry bodies, Startups, Civil society groups, companies approached with solutions. In order to pick the best suggestions, Jayesh Ranjan, Principal Secretary of the Industries & Commerce (I&C) and Information Technology (IT), Biotechnology Departments of the Telangana government constituted an expert committee headed by Ajit Rangnekar, Director General of Research and Innovation Circle of Hyderabad, a Telangana government initiative to take Innovation in agriculture, health and sustainability to market. He is the former dean of ISB.

Criteria for selecting the solution
The Government was not looking for a solution which is in its infancy, a prototype or an ideation stage. “We were looking for something which can be deployed if not immediately, then in a matter of days,” says Ranjan. The second factor was the ability to rapidly scale up, to accommodate the massive data generated, in case if the infection reaches the community transmission stage. The team should also be able to dynamically make changes in the solution, given the fluidity of the situation.

Two solutions were selected, which came out with five modules covering every challenging aspect of managing the disease breakout. “We were looking for an integrated platform. Not running in silos. It’s known as ‘TCOVID-19 platform,” says Ranjan.

The five modules are as follows: contact tracing, COVID-19 related information and services to citizens, (It’s collated from MoHFW, Health ministry, media, social media, etc), thirdly a self assessment form, telemedicine services were hired from CallHealth and lastly an app for the health officials to capture the information on suspected cases; managing infected patients’ lifecycle – from the time they are identified, their travel history, testing, quarantine and discharge. They have to be monitored and the data has to be captured. It can be useful to the field and health officials. A realtime interactive dashboard is also designed for the ministers and secretaries to take decisions upon.

Overall there are two apps – citizens mobile app and the app for the field officials. The data from both is reflected on the dashboard.

The citizen service app provides Government information about the Government Orders (GOs) released, location tracking of the people quarantined either in their respective centres or who are under home quarantine. “We have given an option to the people quarantined to take selfies and post on the app, for us to know the coordinates and thus keep track,” says Ranjan. The next obvious thing is to provide a self assessment form for the Government to check the health status. A chatbot is also being planned, which makes the process much more engaging and easy. CallHealth has enabled the telemedicine facility in the mobile app, for citizens to interact directly with the doctors.

The app also alerts the citizens if they are in the red zone (hotspots), places where there is high concentration of COVID-19 cases. Although information about the total number of cases, etc is being shown by the media, there are chances of falling prey to fake news. Thus the app has official numbers released by the GoI, citiwise.

The app for the health officials has the following information:
Number of testing kits availability; quarantine reports; current occupancy in the quarantine centres; contact tracing. The Government is also planning to get specific data from the telcos for contact tracing.

A graphical representation of all the locations visited by the positively tested individual is available on the app. The condition is the person has to download the app. This allows the Government to contact the citizen, after discharge. In the eventuality of again getting infected, the Govt can trace the visits and arrive on a tentative conclusion on the source of the infection.

The app will also have information about the hospitals with COVID-19 wards, ventilators available and required, emergency wards availability, etc.

The state has also partnered with Cyient to use drones to enforce lockdown. The police make announcements urging people to stay indoors and then back it up to check, whether citizens are following the instructions. The multi-featured drones have sky speakers, thermal imaging cameras and surveillance cameras.

To control the menace of fake news, Telangana has also launched a dedicated website,, as part of its efforts to check the circulation rumour mongering, circulation of misinformation. 

Future plans and learnings
The plan is to use emerging technologies like AI and ML to gauge the hotspots prone to future attacks. “After we have sufficient data, the plan is also to use AI and ML to forecast the potential hotspots that might come up in the foreseeable future,” informs Ranjan.

Usually the solution evaluation takes months, however in the current scenario, it was realised that decisions can be taken way faster and even without any personal meetings happening following the social distancing norms. “The solution providers presented to us on video conferencing sessions, which didn’t pose any hindrance,” concludes Ranjan. 

Punjab fights COVID-19 with COVA app
The message is loud and clear from Suresh Kumar, Special Principal Secretary to Chief Minister that “i won’t mind reaching out to everybody but i don’t want anybody to come out,”

The Government of Punjab has launched the COVA app for the citizens, which facilitates issuance of e-passes during the curfew; report people assembling on the road in large numbers and thus breaking the curfew; order groceries delivered by the ecommerce players. The Government has partnered with them. The shops, fruit and milk vendors are open but not to sell. The Government volunteers take deliveries from them on orders booked on the COVA app.

COVA also has information about the number of people quarantined – both home quarantined and people in quarantine centers. “Currently over fifteen villages are isolated; 15000 people home quarantined and about 1500 in quarantine centers. Every village has been allocated one official at the local level and one official from the health department, who are paying door to door visits in the village. Every quarantined person is contacted every second day,” informs Kumar. 

E-passes have been introduced for commuting, when the curfew is imposed. Punjab police along with Staqu has come up with a simple yet innovative solution to help delivery personnel bring essential goods and commodities to the customers in these times of a lockdown. While the mobility of essential services providers have been challenged amidst lockdown and the police authorities are finding it challenging to verify the authorized personnel, Staqu, a tech start-up has solved the process by digitizing the curfew pass.

Additionally the citizens are issued passes on WhatsApp too. Technology helped in closing the FY ending without any hassle – using VC, e-conferencing and e-office.

Apart from digitisation helping in managing the fight against the COVID-19 disease outbreak, it’s also helping the Government servants to carry on with the routine work. The files are getting cleared using the e-office solution. Secondly, all the meetings are conducted using video conferencing. Officers including the secretaries, collectors and ministers are using the VC facility.

GoI’s Aarogya Setu app
The central Govt launched Aarogya Setu app dedicated for fighting against the spread of COVID-19. The aim is to connect the healthcare services with the citizens. The app is available on android and iPhones and is available for download on Google and iPhone playstore. The App has been designed by NIC.

The app will provide information on Government advisories, risks and best practices pertaining to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Government has already launched the Coronavirus Kavach app, which allows users to identify infected people as and when they come in close proximity to them. The users manually share their information. The Aarogya Setu app tracks the location of the user using GPS and also alerts, in case a COVID-19 infected user is in the proximity of 6 feet. This is only if both users have kept their bluetooth on. The app additionally has the database of the corona positive cases recorded by the Government of India. Aarogya Setu supports 11 languages including Hindi and Marathi.

According to the app description on the Google playstore, Just like Corona Kavach, Aarogya Setu also registers users through their phone numbers. The app sends a one time password (OTP) to the registered mobile number. You can choose to share granular details like name, age and all, but it’s completely optional. Unlike Corona Kavach, Aarogya Setu can keep tracking your vicinity as long as you have location action tracking set to ‘always’ in your phone’s settings, plus you’ll need to keep Bluetooth on as well — Corona Kavach offers a one-hour location tracking window to keep a check on your surroundings. Your location data apparently stays offline on your device at all times. It is only when you’re possibly exposed and choose to share it that you come online and even then this data is shared only with the Government of India — and not with third parties.       

Karnataka has also formed a 10 member group of IAS officers from diverse fields like IT, Healthcare and medicine. The task force will launch in the next few days, a system to track people from the state, who visited abroad during the COVID-19 outbreak. It will also trace all the positive cases and their known and unknown contacts.

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