Pakistan rolls out coronavirus surveillance app for incoming travelers

People wearing protective masks to help curb the spread of the coronavirus walk in a park in Islamabad, Pakistan, July 10, 2020. (AP)
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Updated 11 July 2020

Pakistan rolls out coronavirus surveillance app for incoming travelers

  • 246,351 cases registered since late February

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has developed a mobile app to keep track of travelers entering the country through land routes and airports to ensure a mandatory 14-day self-quarantine for those testing positive for the novel coronavirus.

“The app will be rolled out in a few days,” Shabahat Ali Shah, CEO of the National Information Technology Board (NITB), told Arab News this week.

He said the app would help record symptoms of the incoming travelers and keep track of their location. It would also communicate coronavirus test results to them and check if they were violating the self-quarantine requirement.

The government was testing everyone entering the country until recently. Many travelers were kept at big isolation centers established in hotels and marquees for 14 days to prevent the spread of the virus.

According to government officials, the new app will eliminate the costs associated with the old quarantine protocols and maintain a better record of people’s movements.

Pakistan has registered 246,351 coronavirus infections since late February and over 5,000 deaths.

The government has also been carrying out contact tracing to test suspected cases and sent over half-a-million text messages to those who have come into close contact with COVID-19 patients, according to the Ministry of National Health Services.

“We don’t share contact tracing numbers with the public since they keep changing on a daily basis,” Shah said, adding that people suspected to have the disease were requested to get themselves tested.

Discussing the projections, he said the numbers of coronavirus cases would keep changing but that the government’s actions had proved successful in bringing down the country’s infection rate.

“Smart lockdowns in different areas have helped reduce the disease,” Shah said, adding the decision to lock down virus hotspots was taken on the basis of data collected by the NITB.

He said that the COVID-19 curve would flatten if the government properly managed Eid Al-Adha and Muharram processions in the coming months.

According to independent IT analysts, the app would prove ineffective if “big data” was not properly analyzed.

“Developing an app is not a big deal,” Mustaneer Abdullah, an IT expert, told Arab News. “The real task is to extract useful information through the algorithms and break it down in specific categories to achieve the desired targets. The trouble is that government departments lack that kind of expertise.”

He also pointed out that such apps were hazardous to public privacy in the absence of data protection laws since they sought permission from users at the time of installation to access their photo galleries, locations and contact lists to work smoothly.

“The data collected through these apps can also be a goldmine for scoundrels. People working with government departments could leak user information to digital marketers or fraudsters with total impunity.”


Several German health offices hit by bomb threats

Police from the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia received a call claiming an imminent threat to a local health authority’s office. (File/AFP)
Updated 08 August 2020

Several German health offices hit by bomb threats

  • Germany has been grappling with a resurgent far-right, and has suffered a number of attacks at the hands of far-right terrorists.

BERLIN: Several bomb threats were made against health authorities across Germany overnight, police said Saturday, although searches have so far not turned up any suspicious items.
The offices of the local health authority in Olpe in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia had to be temporarily evacuated late Friday after receiving such a threat.
The all-clear was given after a search by police officers and sniffer dogs.
Likewise, health authorities in the city of Cologne also received a threatening telephone call, although police said they did not deem it to be serious.
Separately in the Bavaria town of Ansbach, several residential homes were evacuated overnight after police received a call claiming an imminent threat to the local health authority’s office.
In July, several district courts were evacuated in Germany after they received bomb threats.
Nothing concrete have been found in searches and no arrests have been made.
The trial of a man accused of sending over 100 far-right letters to politicians, journalists and officials between October 2018 and April 2019 is ongoing.
The threats had prompted evacuations, including of the main train station in Luebeck and a tax office in Gelsenkirchen.