Stop COVID -19 using contact tracing, is it possible in Tunisia

To put an end to this virus, tech industries try to create more and more advanced solutions to help their governments to stop the transmission of COVID-19. Contact tracking via Bluetooth technology and GPS localization is really a promising approach to master the spread of the virus.

Let’s have an insight into its milestones.and how it can be applied in Tunisia’s ecosystem.

Why we dramatically need contact trace application

#Stop_COVID 19 has become a trend and buzzword in different countries,  and Tunisia no exception. The Ministry of Health has launched a platform called Stop-COVID.  To collect answers from users about their recent activities and symptoms.

But these practices are still incapable to identify the real number of infectious people. Because many people hide that or they cannot memorize all people that they have met.

Recently Singapore has launched a mobile app called traceTogether to track users.  The aim is to identify people with high epidemic exposure,  once a person has been marked as Covid-19 positive.

This technique helps in determining the number of people that had close contact with that person and contact them to take their precautions.

But the main concern once this technique is approved, is user data privacy and government admission. 

How it works  

Tracking movement

Trace contact is based on the path tracking of the users. It helps health authorities later to recall everyone with whom a patient has had close contact during the timeframe.

People that he knows from his community and unknown people with whom he may have an encounter or close distance, in the street, public transport, supermarket…

Health authorities supervision

We said health authorities as this app/practice will deal with private data and personal devices. Thus it is important to ensure that this type of apps will be approved by the government and health authorities and no 3 rd party can misuse it.

The app would track the user to detect distance with another user he may encounter in his way. These data would be saved on the user device, once he is marked as infected, it will be easy to reach people that he dealt with and at a high risk to be infected. 

Identity preservation

It is not a matter of identity, instead, it focuses on the person’s high risk to get the virus.  This is the scope of the application,  it helps to know more vulnerable people to the epidemic who are out of the family circle.

The data will be in hyper-confidentiality and the user identity wouldn’t be revealed to keep privacy and personal information safe. The user name or ID wouldn’t be shared as well. But it depends on the health authorities’ needs to master the situation.

 

Easy setup to use

The technical approach of this app considering the one used in Singapore needs two things.  We need to install the app and turn the Bluetooth ON. Once two users encounter at close distance data are exchanged between devices and stored for a particular time. 

Already used in many countries

TraceTogether, the application used in Singapore, is powered by blue trace. It is a development protocol of instructions to protect the privacy and personal rights. This app is developed in opensource and related details of code are available in Github.

How this app can be a game-changer in Tunisia

 

We can stop the epidemic if approximately 60% of the population use the app, and even with lower numbers of app users, we still estimate a reduction in the number of coronavirus cases and deaths,”  said Professor Christophe Fraser, senior author of the latest report from Oxford University’s

Further Mastery of the cases

The app will allow a person whose test is positive for Covid-19 to input his diagnosis. The system then will use Bluetooth technology and beacon signals to identify who the person has come into contact with. Then,  notify those people of possible exposure.

If we officially maintain the use of these apps in Tunisia, medical staff will win the turn easily. This practice will save time and effort and help the ministry of health to master the cases with an effective strategy.  

Post-lockdown tool

The Tunisian Government announces, in a press conference on April 29,  that they will start a targeted lockdown on May 4. Many industries will be back to work such as enterprises and public institutions.

 Thus ContactTrace application is an urgent tool to keep the previous gains and protect communities from the second wave of Covid -19. Which is the major fear of the ministry of health as declared MR Abdeltif El Mekkhi, the minister of health?

If the government adopts this solution and allows a particular startup to develop this application. It will ensure safety and strategy efficiency in the coming days. 

Supported by Apple & Google API

The recent framework developed by Google and Apple ( intend to release the first version of the API publicly in mid-May) requires the official authorities’ submission to allow companies from developing this app. 

Why? Because the key issue in this solution is privacy concerns, and many apps that deal with corona tracking have been banned by app stores as they harm personal details. That’s why Google and Apple declared that companies that will develop this type of apps using their API, need to have official approval.

Personal data and rights wouldn’t be mistreated

In Tunisia, where the country is living a high level of democracy and personal rights respect.

Individual liberties are at a high standard and authorities cannot force users to install the apps once they don’t.

Thus users are expected to help the government once this app is released. How? By installing the app and turn localization on. They need to know that this practice is for their benefit and safety at first level. 

What are the security measures considered by Google and Apple: 

 

User data privacy is the main target

Both companies aim at encrypting any metadata associated with specific Bluetooth signals.  Including the strength of the signal and other info so the distance between devices can be more accurately estimated. 

The two companies’ solution is a set of combination of software updates for Both IOS and Android and software development kit to help apps makers to build and test their apps.

An API that only supports health authorities to master the app data

It’s important to note that what Apple and Google are working on together is a framework and not an app. They’re the privacy and security of the system, but leaving the building of the apps to App makers.

This will help health agencies to create apps that allow persons who are marked as  Covid-19 positive to input their diagnosis. Using Bluetooth signals will help to restrict the number of people with possible exposure. 

Location and movement are the dominant actors in this approach and localization signals are the most important metrics of the contact tracing.

Privacy concerns terms and conditions

The following dashes are an extract from Apple & Google FAQ draft concerning the system privacy rules: 

  • Each user will have to make an explicit choice to turn on the technology. It can also be turned off by the user at any time.                            
  • This system does not collect location data from your device and does not share the identities of other users to each other, Google or Apple. The user controls all data they want to share, and the decision to share it.                                                                                                   
  • Bluetooth privacy-preserving beacons rotate every 10-20 minutes, to help prevent tracking.                                                                             
  • Exposure notification is only done on-device and under the user’s control. In addition, people who test positive are not identified by the system to other users, or to Apple or Google.                                                
  •  The system is only used for contact tracing by public health authorities apps.                                                                                      
  • Google and Apple can disable the exposure notification system on a regional basis when it is no longer needed.                                                
  •  There will be no monetization from this project by Apple or Google.                                                                                                   
  • Access to the technology will be granted only to public health authorities.                                                                                               
  • Only apps from an official public health authority will allow users to report themselves as positive using this system.

Wrap-up

 After dealing with all these details,  it is time to prepare the first concept of the app and which company will be working on it. But of course, all these practices need the health authorities and government WILL to be implemented.

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