By Ida Nadirah Ibrahim
THE move to allow nearly all sectors of the economy to resume operations on May 1 was vital for kick-starting businesses. People started crowding supermarkets, visiting shopping malls and traffic jams were commonplace again.
The economy had to be rebooted; life had to go on. Yet, Covid-19 was still among us, lurking as double-digit cases in pockets of the society during the conditional movement control order period.
Selangor had taken the lead to introduce a simple yet effective method of contact tracing – a mechanism called SELangkah – that has now reached a total of 5.9 million users in the state since it was first introduced on May 5.
The initiative, which was formulated by Selangor Task Force for Covid-19 Dr Helmi Zakariah, acts as a preventive measure to detect the transmission of the virus before it is able to spread further within the community.
Dr Helmi said the only crucial information needed in the contact tracing tool is the phone numbers of people, in order to determine the link of infections.
“How SELangkah is different is, instead of measuring the number of active cases, you are measuring the number of cases that may potentially happen before they actually do,” said Dr Helmi in a recent interview with Selangor Journal.
“Step in Safely”
Dr Helmi, who has been introduced as the brain behind SELangkah by Menteri Besar Dato’ Seri Amirudin Shari, said the contact tracing system was simplified to ease the process for both the users and the owners of business premises.
Since the only information required are phone numbers, users do not need to worry about a breach of data privacy. They will instead have the assurance that a preventive measure is in place, hence the tagline “Step In Safely”.
“In contact tracing, it isn’t really about how big your data lake is, but how efficient the system is to sift through the massive amount of data to find the interlinkage between individuals.
“This technology is by no means perfect, and neither is it the most precise – but this is exactly the part where we can’t let perfection destroy a good enough innovation,” he said.
Dr Helmi said recent figures on the use of SELangkah show that it has received a good acceptability rate.
Citing an Oxford University study published on April 16, Dr Helmi said an e-tracing ecosystem can be referred to as statistically effective if it is utilised by 60 per cent of the population.
“Our most recent figure shows that 5.9 million people in Selangor have joined the ecosystem, which has insofar generated about 60 million logs across 270 000 premises.
“From this perspective – the population of Selangor is about 6.2 million, to compare with the 5.9 million uptakes I cited earlier – we can satisfyingly say that at least in Selangor, Selangkah has reached a statistical threshold for it to be a useful e-tracing ecosystem.”
Dr Helmi said in terms of performance, a total of 1,208 contacts have been generated from 225 Covid-19 patients.
Only health professionals are allowed to do the human aspect of contact tracing, and to date, 321 business premises have been alerted to conduct in-house sanitisation.
“If I were to speculate, the very fact we were able to identify 225 patients showed that we were able to prevent a potentially bigger outbreak of up to 3.5 times more patients, based on the reproductive rate of the coronavirus at that point of the pandemic,” he said.
Improving on inclusivity
Dr Helmi said SELangkah was formed to include all levels of the community and is being improved over time to ensure that the contact tracing procedure is able to reach inside communities.
He said the concept of scanning the QR code using the camera in a smartphone is the easiest method to start off with, in comparison to having to download a separate application.
“Through SELangkah, we are measuring how many people would get infected. And we were able to achieve this by learning from other sectors. The approach used is the same as the ones people use in the retail and micro economy sectors.
“Therefore, we have taken the steps to ensure inclusivity, which is going back to basics and relying on something that most people have (the smartphone). The simplicity of data makes it inclusive and the technology should benefit everyone,” said Dr Helmi.
Dr Helmi said the contact tracing system has recently introduced the option to submit data via SMS for those who have a mobile phone that is not a smartphone.
“We are also looking into providing the option for shops or premises to be able to key in the manually logged data from their customers or visitors into the digital system … but this is something that has to be thought through thoroughly.
“The method of registration is important. If we turn the system into a phone app, that would be limited. The picture that we captured from SELangkah and Covid-19 is that many of those that are at risk are in the B40 group … they do not have the leisure of social distancing,” he said.
Dr Helmi said SELangkah is also fully compliant with the advisory under the Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA).
Dr Helmi said SELangkah was initially developed to only be used in Selangor, but the technology has since been offered to other states in the country as contact tracing cannot be limited by state lines. Each state now has its own access to the data collected via the system.
“We wouldn’t want SELangkah to be the only contract tracing system because when you have centralised data, everyone will rely on that one system. If the system crashes, there will be no backup,” said Dr Helmi, explaining that having different systems, such as the Federal’s MySejahtara app, would prevent the data from being monopolised.
Dr Helmi advised the public to continue using the contract tracing system in efforts to curb Covid-19 from spreading, and urged business premises to give emphasis to the system.
“Our message to the people is that a second wave is coming, and we have to make sure that we have done everything we can to prepare for this.
“If you are a business owner, provide the SELangkah QR code at your premises, and if you are a customer, insist that the business owner displays the SELangkah system. We would like to tell the people that we are in this together.
“The message we want to give is that when a person sees the SELangkah poster at a particular place, he or she will say: his place is safe.”