covid tracking, contact tracing
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Taiwan’s Digital Minister, Audrey Tang, led a cross-sector collaboration and developed a simple SMS contact tracing method that simply requires holding the phone up to the venue QR code which automatically generates an SMS that the user could simply press the send button to document the location with “the least intrusive means.” 

Taiwan is seeing a new wave of covid-19 cases

Taiwan had initially curbed the spread of Covid-19 at the beginning of the Covid-19 outbreak by taking swift actions, but a year later the country is seeing its worst outbreak with 3,596 reported coronavirus cases over the past ten days.

Taiwan entered a nationwide level three alert on 19 May with the bar set to be lifted on 28 May but is now likely to be prolonged. Social distancing rules including banning indoor gathering over five people and outdoor gathering over ten are imposed. Non-essential shops and public venues are closed and face masks are compulsory outdoors.

taiwan, covid-19Optimizing manual contact tracing

Contact tracing is an important measure in early-stage outbreaks and has been described by Audrey Tang as the first line of defense before the vaccine becomes widely available. Supermarkets, convenient shops, and restaurants have been checking in visitors either through web-based or hand-writing forms manually. 

In order to optimize the procedure as well as coping with privacy concerns, Audrey Tang and a group of civic technologists collectively created an SMS method for venue check-in in collaboration with five main telecommunication carriers. 

How does it work?

Built on top of the eMask platform from a year ago, vendors could go online to apply for a QR code which generates a random location code without including any business information and then via a QR code scan by visitors, an SMS containing the location code is automatically generated ready for the individuals to send to the toll-free, disease reporting and consulting 1922 hotline.

Within hours, over 120,000 venues have successfully applied for the QR code enabling over 150,000 spots available of the service across Taiwan allowing less contact at the same time.

Privacy issues

Regarding privacy issues, the SMS generated contains merely the random location code, number and check-in time, to strike a balance between information accuracy and privacy. The information would be deleted 28 days later.

Despite only the “soft lockdown” measures are taken, outdoor activities are not encouraged and the usually busy streets in Taipei city are empty, employees are mostly working at home.

While the daily reported coronavirus cases in Taiwan seem to be slowly leveling off, the possible underestimated numbers and insufficient testing capability are looming factors and an enforced lockdown will be imposed if over 100 cases are seen for 14 consecutive days. The country still needs enough vaccination to return to normal. However, only well above 1% of the population is vaccinated.


Sources: Storm mediaCommon HealthCommonwealth Magazine