The screen of a thermal scanner that detects the temperatures of passengers at the security check inside a subway station is seen, as the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak continues in Mexico City, Mexico, 27 March 2020.
The screen of a thermal scanner that detects the temperatures of passengers at the security check inside a subway station is seen, as the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak continues in Mexico City, Mexico, 27 March 2020.Reuters

When countries across the world have been using various technologies to prevent spread of novel coronavirus, Bangladesh still lags behind.

A number of technologies including digital surveillance, mobile apps, drones or robots are being used by a number of countries while Bangladesh only used AI and Big Data to introduce digital mapping. That too has not been implemented effectively in the field level.

However, an app has been developed, but there is no campaign to promote it. Medical services are being offered via Shastho Batayon and telemedicine services, but on a small scale.

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Chinese technology company Huawei has provided an AI-based diagnosis service to the government, but it has not yet been run. Robi Axiata wanted to initiate a service that includes a cautionary message being appeared on the user’s phone once he enters a coronavirus affected area or nears a possible coronavirus carrier.

But Robi has not yet received approval to run this service.

Regarding the use of technologies in battling the pandemic, state minister for the ICT division Junaid Ahmed Palak drew examples of coronavirus website, website regarding initial screening of infection, launching helpline, e-learning services, digital mapping and so on. He said more than 120,000 people underwent initial screening on livecoronavirustest.com

On 2 April, a2i policy adviser Anir Chowdhury said 370,000 unique calls were made over 10 days regarding coronavirus queries

Information of over 2.6 million people have been collected via mobile operators and mobile financial service providers, he added. He said there are initiatives to increase use of technology in education, health and agriculture.

According to several organisations, the government has asked the people to call at 16263 and 333 to report coronavirus symptoms. People are calling Institute of Epidemiology Diseases Control and Research (IEDCR) hotline too.

The government has been trying to get an overall picture analysing calls at the numbers. On 2 April, a2i policy adviser Anir Chowdhury said 370,000 unique calls were made over 10 days regarding coronavirus queries.

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The government took an initiative to come up with a digital map of coronavirus. The initiative included government a2i project, National Telecommunication Monitoring Centre (NTMC), health ministry, home ministry and mobile operators.

Chief corporate and regulatory officer of Robi Axiata, Shahed Alam, told Prothom Alo that Robi in association with a2i and Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) has formed a strong data analysis system that allows accumulation and verification of huge information. He said this database is contributing in the policymaking of the government.

Mobile operators, however, are optimistic to receive approval over client level alert services. “We’ll soon add a number of services that can be used via data analytics solution. We’re working on this. We hope such services will help the users to fight coronavirus,” Shahed added.

Around 70,000 calls are made every day to Shastho Batayon (16263). “We preserve details of the callers and make a comprehensive report on this. Everyday we send a report to various government offices. We find most of the calls, of possible carriers, are made by people from 35 districts,” said the CEO of Shastho Batayon, Nizam Uddin Ahmed.

Shastho Batayon is developing an app where the physicians will register on their own, he said adding that the patients can get medical advise using this app.

Experts say technologies to identify the people coming into contact of a coronavirus carrier are available in the country. They stress that the virus will be in control if such technologies are used. This, however, requires huge specimen collectors and testing kits. They also stress financial transactions carried out through bank cards and mobile phones.

Bangladesh could use telecommunications when oversees returnees started returning to the country. On arrival, the returnees could be asked to download an app at the airports to provide their health updates for next two weeks. This was followed in South Korea.

But here, data of the oversees returnees were not documented digitally and the returnees were mapped following mobile phone numbers provided in passports.

“We’ve missed the first opportunity to survey our oversees returnees. If we could distribute mobile SIM cards among them and made sure that they keep them activated, they could be monitored easily,” said Abu Sayeed, senior policy fellow of telecommunication research institute Learn Asia.

“The government has list of all pharmacies of the country. These should be included in Google Map now. A database should be created analysing people who visit pharmacies or hospitals and make calls to various government helplines.”

Abu Sayeed stressed creating a permanent data analytics system for Bangladesh.

In China, citizens have to show their smartphones to board a subway train. A red signal indicates the person might be a possible coronavirus carrier, yellow refers one might have been in contact with an infected but not completed quarantine while green indicates safety.

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According to World Economic Forum (WEF), Singapore used Big Data to introduce digital map while robots have been used to provide food and medical equipment there. Vietnam and Thailand too used telecommunications for large scale monitoring, according to WEF.

China used mobile financial services (MFS), AI and Big Data to carry out the procedure. Though questions have arisen over breaching privacy, the system has proved to contain virus spread in lockdown measures.

China also used thermal scanners on drones to identify people with fever. It used robots to spray disinfectants and to deliver foods and medicines.

South Korea created a database using mobile operators, credit card information, CCTV footage and AI.

According to World Economic Forum (WEF), Singapore used Big Data to introduce digital map while robots have been used to provide food and medical equipment. Vietnam and Thailand too used telecommunications for large scale monitoring.

In India, tracking app Aarogya Setu has been downloaded more than 50 million times in the first 13 days of its launch.

*This report has been rewritten in English by Nusrat Nowrin.