COVID-19 pandemic: Apps aid the fight

April 19, 2020 6:28 AM

Apart from the official government app, there are other apps too that have been developed by companies and private individuals to track and fight the spread of Coronavirus in India.

The Indian government recently launched its Covid-19 tracking app called Aarogya Setu.The Indian government recently launched its COVID-19 tracking app called Aarogya Setu.

By Shriya Roy

The increasing number of Coronavirus cases has become a cause for concern for all affected countries, especially for a developing one like ours. It’s no surprise then that the government, as well as the private sector, have ramped up efforts to fight its spread.

The Indian government recently launched its COVID-19 tracking app called Aarogya Setu. The app has been developed by the National Informatics Centre and aims to proactively inform citizens about the “best practices and relevant advisories pertaining to the containment of COVID-19 virus”. The app, which was launched by the ministry of electronics and information technology, has been downloaded by over 20 million people already. The artificial intelligence that runs the app employs a user’s mobile phone location and Bluetooth data to assess whether he/she has been within six feet of a person infected with the virus.

The data of the people using the app is sent to a server and checked against a database of known cases and their movements. If a person with the app tests positive for coronavirus or has been in close contact with someone who has, the app shares that data with the government. The Aarogya Setu app, which is available in 11 languages, also asks users a series of questions, including their place of residence and if they are a healthcare worker, assessing the chances of them having contracted the virus.

The app additionally includes live updates from the health ministry and a list of helpline numbers for each state. Prime Minister Narendra Modi also said the Aarogya Setu app may be used as an e-pass to facilitate travel amid the nationwide lockdown due to coronavirus. In a meeting via video-conferencing with chief ministers of states, he asserted that the app is an essential tool in fighting against COVID-19 and that it can “act as e-pass to facilitate travel”.

Apart from the official government app, there are a multitude of other apps that have been developed by companies and private individuals to track and fight the spread of the virus in India. GoCoronaGo, an app developed by a team at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) in Bengaluru, helps identify people who may have crossed paths with COVID-19 suspects by tracking their interaction using Bluetooth and GPS. “It uses temporal network analytics in the backend to understand the risk propensity even for distant contacts, understand disease spread and identify high-risk people who are likely to contract and spread the virus,” said Tarun Rambha, faculty member, IISc. “It also provides alerts on isolation and proximity scores, and helps enhance social distancing. It also has a geo-fencing feature for those who are under quarantine and has the ability to provide their symptoms, which is used in risk evaluation,” Rambha added.

Sahil Verma, a BTech student at IIT Ropar, has developed an app called Sampark-o-Meter, which indicates areas on maps with maximum coronavirus infection possibility. “The app generates a ‘risk score’ after considering various factors and can alert people to take precautionary measures, including self-isolation or consulting a doctor. This app, if implemented successfully, can timely alert and more efficiently control the spread,” says Verma.

A big issue that the authorities are facing is isolated individuals fleeing from their quarantine zones. A team of students and alumni at IIT Bombay have developed the app Corontine that can aid in tracking the suspected asymptomatic carriers of coronavirus if they leave their quarantine zone. A team member said the app is installed on the phones of asymptomatic carriers by an authorised agency and sends GPS coordinates of the phone to a server. If a user leaves a specified quarantined zone, it will be auto-detected.

Similarly, the Rajasthan government has partnered with MedCords’ Aayu and Sehat Saathi apps to help people in the state consult doctors online and place orders for medicines. The technology is provided free of cost by the startup. “Our apps, Aayu and Sehat Sathi, have made quality healthcare accessible for everyone on their fingertips,” says Shreyans Mehta, co-founder and CEO of MedCords.

Another app Aiismab has taken digital warfare against the virus to another level. The app rewards users for anonymously trading their data. Via the app, users can consensually trade their behavioural data for rewards. In light of the current COVID-19 situation, Aiisma has also expedited the release of its health mapping feature for individuals to share and monitor health conditions, and create a digital fence against COVID-19 spread.

Not just in India, big organisations and startups around the globe have put their heads together to develop apps that will aid the authorities in controlling the virus’ spread. Pinterest’s app How we Feel asks users to report information like age, gender, location and how they are feeling, helping experts track real-time data on the virus. The app asks users to complete daily health check-ins.

China, which was the initial hotspot of the outbreak, efficiently used mobile phone apps to help slow the spread of the virus. Alibaba Group and Tencent Holdings created colour-based systems that record the health of individuals and identify carriers of the virus. A QR code links the user to an internet site with information about a subject. Users with a red code are told to quarantine themselves for 14 days, those with a yellow code are told to stay in quarantine for seven days, while those with green code can move freely.

The number of tracking apps that have come up amid the global pandemic have, however, raised serious concerns over the data privacy of users, with privacy groups raising concerns that the data maybe used for large-scale mass surveillance by the state. Data privacy is a genuine concern for individuals and the issue will probably be up for debate sometime in the near future. But right now, it looks like all hands on deck to control the spread of this deadly global pandemic.

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