PTA Starts Searching for Coronavirus Patients Using Mobile Phones

With the number of novel coronavirus patients in Pakistan rising by the hour, the government is faced with a daunting task to contain the spread within what can safely be described as limited resources.

However, that’s not all there is to the said task. In a virtual press conference held on March 14, 2020, when asked about the epidemiological state of Pakistan, Dr. Micheal J. Ryan, the Executive Director of World Health Organization (WHO), made the following statement, “Pakistan has a highly mobile population with large cities and underserved people. So there is a great challenge facing Pakistan.”

On the positive note though, Dr. Ryan also stated, “But Pakistan has also demonstrated time and again with dengue, polio, and other diseases how all of the government and society’s approaches can be made to work.”

Coinciding with the aforementioned statement, the Government of Pakistan, under the Digital Pakistan initiative, has enabled the Pakistan Telecom Authority (PTA) to track the people whose whereabouts indicate a higher possibility of COVID-19 infection.

This exercise is said to be in full effect as numerous people across the country have reportedly been receiving the text message from PTA that reads, “It has been observed that you may have come in contact with a confirmed coronavirus case in the last 14 days.”

“You are, therefore, requested to take necessary precautionary measures by self-quarantine,” the message reads. Also, the text message continues to direct the receivers about the measures that ought to be taken.

Various telecom authorities have testified that the said message is completely authentic. Also, PTA told Dawn News that the dispersion of the message is among a select few; those that have been observed moving about in areas susceptible to have coronavirus cases. It was also stated that the tracked individuals have also been tested for signs of infection.

The practice of sending out these messages is done under the leadership of the Digital Pakistan initiative. Retweeting PTA, head of Digital Pakistan Tania Aidrus posted the following on her Twitter Account:

The exercise, which intends to expedite the process of containing the virus, is also raising a few questions about data privacy of the Pakistani telecom users. It was, however, found that the procurement of the information was done through various sources including Cell Site Location Information (CSLI), Call Detail Records (CDR’s) and other GPS & Bluetooth based methods that can track a  person’s cellphone.

This exercise is highly likely to catalyze the process of identifying the suspected COVID-19 patients and should also speed up the process of containing the virus.