Friday, June 5

Sarawak’s digital fight against Covid-19

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In unprecedented times, the Conronavirus Disease 2019 (Covid-19) presents itself as a threat to humanity due to the swift speed at which Covid-19 spreads, with a current death toll exceeding 324,000 cases worldwide as of time of writing.

In response, technology comes as a saving grace to stem the pandemic’s growth. Among the key roles technology is needed for to stop the spread of misinformation as well as track the spread of the virus to enable faster response to hard hit areas.

Enter Sarawak’s i-Alerts App, an official mobile app from the state government to keep Sarawakians up to date with the latest Covid-19 situation in the state.

The app, which was made public in mid-March this year, is managed by the Sarawak Disaster Management Committee (SDMC) to engage the people of Sarawak in combating Covid-19.

i-Alerts is Sarawak’s official disaster communication and information app to provide Sarawak citizens and residents official and communications during times of disasters including floods, haze, outbreaks and so on, with up-to-the-minute official information of disaster situations as these situations develop.

i-Alerts also enable citizens to notify and report to Sarawak authorities of emergency and disaster situations they encounter.

i-Alerts brings together all disaster-related agencies and units to ensure an always accurate and up-to-date situation updates to ensure Sarawak citizens stay constantly informed and in the know with news and videos.

“Effective risk communication is an important aspect of managing Covid-19 outbreak. In a period where uncertainty is abound, communicating advice and guidance is an important public health tool,” said a representative from the Sarawak Multimedia Authority in reply to BizHive.

“Via the i-Alerts App, subscribers are notified on latest news, charts, guidance and advice. On top of these, users can use the i-Alerts report function to tip off the authority of wristband wearers seen in public.”

When MCO was announced, SMA said the state managed to launch and make downloadable this application in less than two days.

This was possible as the state’s digital policy had always emphasised open standard and interoperability, the authority added.

“Hence, an ongoing system could be repurposed with minimal technical changes to become the official channel for disseminating the right pandemic-related information to the public,” it added.

Towards disaster preparedness

i-Alerts is designed to serve as the single integrated disaster platform to address current and future incidents and disasters. It is also the channel for the public to report incidents that can potentially trigger disastrous outcome to the SDMC.

When asked about the app’s ability to maintain the timeliness of its information as well as verification, the representative said there is close collaboration among the organisations managing i-Alerts including the State Disaster Management Committee and hence, the accurate information could be published immediately upon release.

“This is also helped by the design of i-Alerts which is based on open-standards that promote swift flow of information for verification, findability, accessibility, interoperability, reuse and leverage the growth of existing Government Open Data initiatives,” he added.

At the moment of writing, i-Alerts has been downloaded over 40,000 times across the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store.

“One of the biggest challenges of disaster management is for stakeholders is to be able to discover, access, integrate and analyze task-appropriate data together.

By making full use of existing data in the disaster management sector, i-Alerts will adopt mechanisms that ensure resource verification, findability, accessibility, interoperability, reuse and leverage the growth of existing Government Open Data initiatives.

Furthermore, i-Alerts serves as the channel for the public to report on disasters directly to the State Disaster Management Committee. The standardization of all Disaster related data and information exchange will then be extend to the use of Big Data.

The flow of information generated by citizens, governments and sensors before, during and after a crisis will be seamlessly analyzed through the i-Alerts platform for comprehensive understanding and effective emergency preparedness for future disaster and crises.

Sarawakians are advised to download i-Alerts on their mobile devices not just to be kept in the loop of the Covid-19 situation, but to also play an active role in helping to contain the spread of the disease.

Enhancing border control for the state

A key feature of Sarawak’s fight against Covid-19 lies in its borders – or, to be precise, those who cross them.

As Sarawak has extra autonomy in the administration of immigration matters, this layer of border control has given the state a useful means to curb Covid-19 outbreak.

The Sarawak Disaster Management Committee (SDMC) has been very proactive in tackling issues relating to Covid-19 within the state. These include managing policies coming from the federal state and finetuning it towards Sarawak’s needs as seen fit.

One that stands out is that the SDMC has changed the procedures for returning Sarawakians after a new Covid-19 cluster known as the ‘IPT Cluster’ was found in Sabah and Peninsular Malaysia.

SDMC chairman Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah on May 16 said they had decided to take extra precaution by requiring samples to be taken from the returnees arriving from the peninsula, Sabah and Labuan once they touched down in Sarawak.

“They will be screened and placed at hotels until the test results of their sample are known.

“Only those whose samples test negative are allowed to go home, but are required to wear a QR-code wristband as they continue their quarantine at home,” he said at the daily Covid-19 update press conference last week.

He also said another decision by SDMC was to require Sarawakian civil servants in Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah and Labuan to undergo the Polymerase Chairn Reaction (PCR) test three days prior to returning to the state.

“They can only be allowed back to Sarawak if their sample test result is negative,” he said.

Meanwhile, starting May 19, all Malaysians including Sarawakians who wish to travel into the state must apply for a permit from the police first before applying to the Sarawak Disaster Management Committee (SDMC), said Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah Embas.

He said without the police permit, SDMC will not approve any application of those who want to enter Sarawak.

“This rule is in line with the directive by the Federal Government on inter state travel restriction,” he said during a daily SDMC press conference on Covid-19 updates.

Uggah said after applying for interstate travel permits from the police, travellers who want to enter Sarawak must then apply again for another permit from SDMC through online by going to the website http://sdmc.sarawak.gov.my within 12 hours before entering the state.

On the same note, Uggah said the state government will continue to enforce strict restriction and screen all applications to enter the state because many big Covid-19 cluster cases in the state were brought in by those coming into the state from overseas or those from other states in the country.

“Realising that reality, we are discouraging people from going back to their hometowns for Gawai or Hari Raya,” he added.

“The public are advised to avoid inter state or inter district movement to prevent the transmission of this disease into Sarawak especially into the rural area.

“Together, we all play an important role to protect Sarawak from the second wave of Covid-19.

Permission to enter the state

Non-Sarawakians travelling to Sarawak during the enforcement period need to apply, remotely, for permission to enter (exit) via the respective Sarawak’s Point of Entry (POE).

The Sarawak Immigration Department officers at the respective POE will then take the cue from this platform which is integrated to theirs, before letting a successful applicant into the state.

While Sarawakians are exempted from this entry process, they are still required to apply for permission to exit the state. These respective end-to-end processes have to be completed before the travel date.

“To keep us safe during and after MCO, the state government has put in place several safety measures, such as the Enter/Exit Sarawak platform, the online mandatory health declaration form and QR-coded wristband digital surveillance system,” SMA said.

“These platforms have been used to manage and monitor border and district movements.”

The initiative called EnterSarawak is a collaboration between SMA and Socoe Sdn Bhd (Socoe) which allows for contactless tracking of inbound and outbound travelers in Sarawak.

This system is integrated with multiple stakeholders that include SDMC, JPAM, Immigration and so on to collectively undertake their respective tasks yet work in complete unison.

Socoe chief executive officer Samuel Wong explained that the harmonised approach of collecting and transmitting data to and from border control agencies via a single and globally interoperable information structure and format avoids the unnecessary complexity in systems and allow for overall efficiency.

“Whether receiving a Stay Home Notice, Quarantine Order or more; EnterSarawak expedites the process of passengers in and out of Sarawak, while providing a secure method for The Government to verify acceptance for travel which creates a much needed layer of border security,” he told BizHive in an interview.

“For enhanced security, the app is also equipped with biometric security encryption to ensure only authorised individuals have functional access. Designed and developed with Sarawak’s leading experts and under great pressure within 36hours of the MCO to manage all points of exit/entry in Sarawak for the utmost safety of its people. As situations evolve, so does technology – and as such, we urge the public to continue updating and providing feedback for the existing digital initiatives so we may continue to further improve these technologies to serve Sarawak better.”

Touching on the QR-coded wristband surveillance system, it has enabled the SDMC to manage the 14-day Stay Home Notice process for travelers from outside Sarawak as well as for Sarawakians in their inter-district travel.

On a twice-daily basis, wearers are required to report their location by scanning their wristband’s QR code to submit a set of information.

All the respective technological initiatives such as EnterSarawak and Digital Surveillance are integrated providing a centralized database for the State Disaster Management Committee.

“Through the development of appropriate search and reporting tools within the i-Alerts Data Interoperability Framework, the travel data, health information, combined with and analysed against other current data is used for investigative and intelligence purposes with i-Alerts such as Contact Tracing for the health and safety of Sarawakians,” Socoe’s Wong said.

“Sarawak as a whole, fully benefits from these technologies by transforming the data received from these digital initiatives into actionable intelligence to identify targets for interventions.

“SDMC will seamlessly analyse trends and statistics from data collected for strategic initiative setting, emergency response and effective resource planning.”

Dr Sim is seen showcasing the app on his handphone.

Sarawak’s Covid-19 tracing measures

Another key way technology can be used to combat the pandemic is in tracing those who have been in close contact with Covid-19 positive cases but not showing any symptoms.

Last week, Sarawak has come up with an app called Covid Trace to prevent second wave of Covid-19 infections in the state as more economic sectors reopen during the current Conditional Movement Control Order (CMCO) period.

Local Government and Housing Minister Datuk Seri Dr Sim Kui Hian said the app allows health authorities to trace those who had been in contact with a Covid-19 positive case and take steps to curb the disease from spreading.

“We have overcome the first wave in Sarawak but we need everybody to please help to prevent the second wave of Covid-19,” he said during one of the daily Covid-19 update sessions last week. “I urge all Sarawakians to download it. Switch on bluetooth so that the app can automatically detect who are around you.”

(SOURCE: Sarawak Public Communications Unit)

Dr Sim said the Covid Trace app can automatically detect and get the phone numbers of people within three metres around the handphone user.

Having said that, he assured Sarawakians that their data will be safely stored in their handphone when using the app.

“The data is safely stored in your handphone, no one else can access. Only when you are positive, then the health authority will access it to make it faster to trace the people whom you were in contact with.

“Whatever information gathered will be stored on your handphone for 21 days. In case one of us is positive, then the health authority will be able to inform you if you are a close contact that you will need to come to be screened for Covid-19,” he said.

He also revealed that efforts are now ongoing to develop a Version 2 for this app, whereby the users will have to scan QR codes every time they enter a business premise.

He pointed out that once the Version 2 is ready, members of the public in Sarawak do not have to write down their particulars and phone numbers like what they do now before entering business premises during the current CMCO period.

“Just scan the QR code and all information will be integrated,” he said, adding that contact tracing is an important measure in curbing the spread of Covid-19.

Keeping in check with MySejahtera, MyTrace

On a federal level, the government has introduced the MySejahtera app as well as the MyTrace app with the same aims of disseminating information and contact tracing.

The public can carry out self-health evaluation from time to time via MySejahtera launched in early April.

The MySejahtera app enables users to determine their health levels, identify nearby hospitals and clinics where they can get tested, obtain information on what to do if they do contract Covid-19, and where to get treatment.

Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Adham Baba said the application developed to assist in monitoring Covid-19 would also give guidelines to those classified as at risk in the outbreak.

“The application is on par with the technology used by advanced countries and MySejahtera has been tested via pioneer projects at several locations in Malaysia.

“Findings from these pioneer projects are very encouraging which spur us to expand it throughout the country,” he said when speaking at the app’s soft launch.

Members of the public can obtain the latest and verified information on the development of Covid-19 in Malaysia, Asean and the world via the application, he added.

Dr Adham hoped that MySejahtera would assist the people to be more alert of the current situation during the Covid-19 pandemic and strengthen the effort of the government, especially the ministry to formulate strategy in the combat against the outbreak.

MySejahtera was developed with the strategic cooperation of the National Security Council, Health Ministry, the Malaysian Administrative Modernisation and Management Planning Unit, and the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission.


MyTrace to help in contact tracing

Meanwhile, in early May, the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MOSTI) revealed that is has developed an application called MyTrace to help the government trace individuals who may have gone near anyone carrying the Covid-19 virus.

It is a contact tracing app that uses Bluetooth to measure how long a user’s phone has been in proximity with other MyTrace users. If a MyTrace user is diagnosed with Covid-19, this would allow the government to track and contact those who might have contracted it from them.

Senior Minister (Security Cluster) Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob said MyTrace, which was developed in collaboration with local experts, would complement the MySejahtera launched earlier.

“When mobile phone users with MyTrace are near each other, the Bluetooth waves can detect their presence. Based on the strength of the Bluetooth waves detected, the distance and period of their meeting can be determined.

“The data collected will be kept for 21 days in the handphones of users,” he told a press conference.

Ismail Sabri said the consumer data gathered would be anonymised and MyTrace was not meant to collect geolocation information.

“(This method of) contact tracing is very important to enable us to know who has gone near a person identified as Covid-19 positive,” he added.

Saying that the government was targeting 60 per cent of handphone users in the country with the application, he encouraged the people to download MyTrace and use it.

“If a new cluster of Covid-19 is detected, the MyTrace application can help the Health Ministry to trace (contacts) and break the chain of infection as soon as possible,” he said.

Beginning the month of May, the federal government’s two Covid-19-related apps MySejahtera and MyTrace have been linked, simplifying the user’s experience with both recommended apps.

In its latest update, the MySejahtera app can now access the MyTrace app through its main menu. It will either take users directly to the latter app, or to the app store if the user hasn’t downloaded MyTrace.

Users will still need to download and login to both apps to make the services work cohesively.

Both apps are managed by administrators within the Ministry of Health, with the approval of the National Security Council.

Gerak Malaysia

Another app, Gerak Malaysia, was produced by the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission for contact tracing and movement monitoring.

The app requires personal details, including the user’s full name, MyKad or passport number, residential address and email. Users also have to give permission to track their location at all times via the phone’s GPS.

Gerak Malaysia will generate a unique QR code for the user, which most likely will be used at some point to allow travel, as the Terms and Conditions says: “To facilitate Users with the authorised travel document during the period of MCO.”

The Gerak Malaysia application has been downloaded 1.3 million times, with over 600,000 requests for inter-state travel permits received by the Royal Malaysia Police since May 4, said Bukit Aman Criminal Investigation Departmen director Datuk Huzir Mohamed.

“For more details on the app and for interstate movement, the public can visit www.gerakmalaysia.gov.my,” he said in a statement on May 6, adding that those stranded and wanting to return to their hometowns should make their applications through the Gerak Malaysia app.

In addition, Huzir urged IOS users to register from May 7 onwards before embarking on their journey according to the stipulated schedules.

“Applications for interstate movement can also be made manually, whereby applicants need to download a form from the PDRM Facebook page or fill up the form at the nearest police station, through appointment, for approval,” he said.