"This app will be useful during this dangerous phase."
What did the World Health Organization prescribe at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic as an integral part of the containment protocol?
Aggressive contact tracing, that's what. And it's the component that our overburdened health care system apparently has not been able to implement in an aggressive manner, for one reason or another.
But help is on the way. Staysafe.ph is an online-based contact tracing app for the highly infectious disease.
The app was launched in April this year and will be turned over to the Department of Health (DOH) by its developer, Multisys Technologies Corp., next month.
The app, according to Malacañang, is the country’s “official social distancing, health condition reporting, and contact tracing system.” Online-based apps like Staysafe will help the government augment its human contact tracing efforts to save lives. The app's function will be limited to the collection of data, which will be stored in DOH’s "Covid Kaya," a case and contact tracing reporting system for epidemiology and surveillance officers.
The Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) has indicated that the DOH would accept the StaySafe.PH application upon issuance by the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) and the National Privacy Commission (NPC) of a certification that the donation is technically feasible and secure, that systems are compatible, and that the arrangement is compliant with data privacy laws.
The WHO warned recently that a "new and dangerous phase" of the pandemic is likely to take place as people grow tired of lockdowns and social distancing. Staysafe would prove highly useful amid this "dangerous phase" of the pandemic as the government gradually reopens the economy in Metro Manila under a General Community Quarantine (GCQ) situation since most workers have a smartphone with 3G capabilities or higher. Staysafe, therefore, can assist the government in carrying out its Test-Trace-Treat or T-3 strategy.
Staysafe, however, has been criticized by former DICT Undersecretary Eliseo Rio, who says he was eased out of government after raising questions over the app's supposed limitations.
The DICT had formed a technical working group (TWG) to check on the technical specs of Staysafe. The TWG also included the DOH and the Department of the Interior and Local Government along with multiple groups of experts from the private sector.
Staysafe was analyzed by technical experts, and several technical workshops and meetings were held to discuss and evaluate its capabilities. These meetings included highly skilled professionals who were fair and objective in coming up with their evaluation of Staysafe.
After the app's acceptance on April 8, the NTF checked Staysafe’s capabilities. It was approved by IATF on April 22 through Resolution No. 27. Thus, it took the DICT-led TWG to evaluate Staysafe before IATF declared it as the official contact-tracing app for COVID-19.
A unified and centralized system is the only system that will ensure successful online contact tracing. Accrediting multiple contact tracing apps would only result to redundancy and further delay the work of the DOH in providing up-to-date information about the COVID-19 outbreak.
Moreover, using Staysafe on 3G phones is a good start. It would at least cover tens of millions of Filipinos using 3G-capable phones.
A 2017 Global Mobile Consumer Survey conducted by Deloitte showed that more than half of Filipino mobile consumers—55 percent—now use 4G LTE networks.
That was three years ago. This number has already increased since then, with 4G LTE phones becoming more affordable and LTE coverage expanding across the country.
Multisys, Staysafe’s developer, has put up digital platforms used by over 2,000 companies in the country and by 200 local government units (LGUs).
Multisys has also been tapped by Manila Mayor Isko Moreno to strengthen the city government’s efforts to fight COVID-19.
The Go! Manila app provides convenient and efficient online services to Manila residents and minimizes physical contact of its citizens. The mayor also endorsed the use of the Manila.StaySafe.PH, which is connected to the Staysafe app, to improve COVID-19 contact tracing among Manila residents.
Online contact tracing to complement the work of human contact tracers is a key element in saving lives and flattening the COVID-19 curve as shown by countries like Taiwan and South Korea.
The government should strengthen its contact-tracing capabilities after the WHO's urgent warning that the pandemic has reached a "dangerous" phase. This is timely and appropriate at this time when the government is starting to relax mobility restrictions to jumpstart the economy and transition to the new normal.