Importance of Contact Tracing
Contact Tracing has deemed effective in many countries. It has been 6 months since the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak has started. In merely half a year there is already at least 6.5 million global population that had been infected. Moreover, the fast-spreading disease is still on a horizon, especially USA and Brazil.
So how fast exactly does the current COVID-19 spread?
First, we will go back and analyse the spread of COVID-19 in the US.
According to Worldometers, there were about 2,700 confirmed cases on March 14th. Two days later on March 16th, the confirmed cases rose to approximate 4,600. Therefore you might think in every two days, the confirmed cases may just rise by 2,000. However, as COVID-19 continues, people have realised the spread of COVID-19 was not linearly, but exponentially.
There are many ways an infected person can spread diseases to others. Depending on the disease, the time taken for symptoms to show may vary. For COVID-19, in most cases, it takes up to 14 days to appear after a person has been infected. Hence, there are potentially more people that had got infected than we knew about.
Hence one of the strategies that had shown to contribute to the slow of the spread in some countries was the practice of “social distancing”. The more space between you and another person, the harder it is for the virus to spread.
To aid the effectiveness of social distancing, a monitoring process called contact tracing was set in place in many countries. It helps the authorities to monitor individuals and their contact to keep track of infections and alert people to prevent further transmission of the virus.
According to the World Health Organization, contact tracing can be divided into three steps: Contact Identification, Contact Listing, Contact Follow-up.
- Contact identification: Identifying the infected individual’s activities and the activities and roles of the people around them since the onset of illness.
- Contact listing: People that are considered in contact with the infected individual will be listed as “contacts”. They will be informed with actions that they will need to follow, thus to receive early care if they do develop symptoms.
- Contact follow-up: Regular follow-ups with all “contacts” to monitor for symptoms and test for signs of infection.
Contact Tracing Application
With governments all over the world hoping to lift the lockdown that had overwhelmed hospitals and caused nearly 400,000 deaths worldwide. Many countries have implemented contact tracing which had shown to be effective. Yet, the application needs to be widespread first.
With some countries making it a compulsory download, it has sparked debate about the risk of endangering our privacy.
There are currently two ways of contact tracing:
- Geolocalisation via cellphone networks
In China, geolocalisation via cellphone networks, data compiled from public transport and/or highway checkpoints were implemented. The use of their contact tracing application was systematic and mandatory. Hence the reason China had started to lift the lockdown and halt contagions.
On the other hand, most other countries have turned to Bluetooth tracking. The authority strongly suggested the use of contact tracing application but persist voluntary due to privacy issues. Individual identities are encrypted, which allows the authorities to only detect which two people’s devices come into close contact.
Overall, geolocalisation works favourably compared to Bluetooth. Since the strength of Bluetooth signals is largely depending on a phone’s age. Bluetooth may also suffer the risk of “false positives” due to signal to go through walls even two individuals may be in two separate rooms.
To address the concern of privacy invasion issues, Australia’s own contact tracing application “COVIDSafe” is completely voluntary. Moreover, it is also based on OpenTrace/BlueTrace protocol developed by the Singaporean Government.
In order to preserve privacy for all Australians, personal information is first obtained once at registration and used only to contact possibly infected individuals. Additionally, individuals are able to opt-out at any time and clear all personal data. COVIDSafe utilises Bluetooth where all encountered are collected in a contact history log and only record contact for the past 21 days. Contact logs are identified using anonymous time-shifting “temporary IDs” issued by the Department of Health.
In combination with Australian citizens efforts, there were only 500 new cases throughout Australia in the month of May. Hence, we are very happy Australia is slowly lifting its restrictions, however, “social distancing rules” still apply.
So stay safe and stay distant.
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