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Karnataka’s tech-enabled strategy of tracing Covid-19 comes with zero cost

Anil Urs Bengaluru | Updated on June 22, 2020 Published on June 23, 2020

Munish Moudgil   -  The Hindu

Karnataka has been a trail-blazer in using technology to tackle Covid-19 outbreak. The pivot in creating tech-based systems for fighting the virus is Munish Moudgil, Chief of Covid-19 War Room. With his app, the State is tackling the pandemic efficiently. An IIT-Bombay graduate, Moudgil shares with BusinessLine, how he came up with the idea and implemented it. Excerpts:

How has your app helped in developing strategies for fighting the pandemic?

The app is a digital tracker that traces Covid-19 infected persons with zero cost to the government, without any IT company support or extra hiring. It is conducted by a team of four in-house technicians led by me. The number of cases, contacts, and people moving from one State to another keep on growing exponentially. Manually tracking these people is not possible – the use of technology is inevitable. So keeping this in mind, Karnataka built its strategy around tech-enabled systems to drive the Covid War Room.

Later, the prevention method is also critical. So, the people who are affected and the people who are likely to get infected need to be isolated and quarantined for 14 days. Here technology helps in monitoring them so they do not infect others.

Technology has enabled us to collect, monitor and disburse data in short time to handle the pandemic in real-time.

Without the app, how difficult would it have been...?

The numbers being in thousands and thousands, in the absence of the app, one cannot track them in a short time. What the apps are doing here is helping the staff to do their job a hundred times more efficiently. Through the app, the data picked by a patient in Bengaluru can be sent to Bidar instantly, for example. Once that contact is confirmed that data will in return be shared with the quarantine watch team.

Now, how do you go about doing that?

We communicate with the districts who are supporting us in real-time. We are creating reports that can be shared with the district. In addition, reports which are prepared at the districts reach us daily instantly. Let us say, there are 20 people working in every district for contact tracking, we tell them numbers, i.e. 20 people will follow 200 contacts. We also get an update from districts; they also share a list of who has followed up on whom. So, we know sitting here, using the software and app. We supervise them, every week through a video conference with the Chief Secretary.

How do you manage the huge data that gets generated on a daily basis?

We collect data in a centralised manner, but we act on it locally. Work on the data being collected at a local village, taluk, district or city. Centrally, we collect the data and then transmit it to all the relevant people who are assigned on the job to act upon that data.

Have you roped in any tech partners to develop and manage the Covid-19 War Room?

Our software apps developed for Covid-19 are in-house. I wrote the entire report and how the app will function. In addition, the contact tracking, quarantine watch, health watch and containment watch are all software-driven and are created in-house including the Sevasetu App.

The data collection, follow-ups and apps development are by the Karnataka Government, while the IT trade body – Nasscom is roped in to help us with data analysis. You can see a dashboard giving statistics real-time on the trend. Like Nasscom, we are working with other groups – Apthamitra is our online telemedicine centre. which is 14410.

After the roll-out of the app, what has been the response from the users and those involved with the project?

The feedback has been good. The proof is that people are seeing the result on a daily basis. We are allowing the apps to be used by the government and the people at large which will enable them to do their jobs better. Without this, our staff, officers will not be able to handle the combined and co-ordinated response of all.

How are you monitoring the movement of the people, especially those who are travelling into our State, which according to reports, is the main reason for the rise in cases?

One should register on the Sevasetu app in case one is travelling from a different State. In case one has not registered, then at the check posts at Karnataka, we will make one apply for it. For anybody entering Karnataka, a registration in Sevasetu is compulsory. For international and domestic flights, we are getting a list of travellers and their contact details in advance which we share the information with our quarantine watch teams. The same applies to the Railways. That data too is forwarded to our quarantine watch team and that is why we need 50,000 people for this on groundwork.

What were the challenges faced by the team?

The major challenge was that it had to be done in a short time. The first quarantine that was rolled out was only for one and a half days. The second challenge is that it is a forever-changing requirement and the same has to keep changing depending on that moment. So, this has been a technical challenge. So that is why we work closely with people on the ground who are practically executing the plan and their feedback is taken for the change, and the software is changing every day.

The other challenges are that the numbers are huge. People are coming from all over and keeping track of that is not easy at all. Another challenge is identifying and tracking critically ill patients and their information, especially which hospital has beds where they can be accommodated. This will be the parallel health management that is put in place.

How has the Centre responded to the tech developed by Karnataka?

Our actions and results in the last couple of months have brought it to the notice of the Central government that Karnataka was the first State to have visited 1.6 crore houses in two weeks’ time and followed it with data entry. This was possible with mobile apps and door-to-door check. We are using the data collected to identify vulnerable households. Now the Central government has been asking other States to do the same. They have also picked up our other models like dedicated Covid health hospitals, contact tracking and quarantining systems. We are inspired by the positive outcome, but the real challenge is in the coming days which will be the most critical.

How do you see the pandemic shaping or have we peaked or still more to come?

Our peak is yet to come, and I don’t know when it will come, but still we are increasing. And if we are successful in containing the numbers then, this would be the peak. If we are not able to contain the spread, then the numbers will become larger. The numbers are only increasing and becoming stable and then again it increases. So, the per day number of cases to remain at this level or slightly high will depend on how effectively we take the prevention and cure.

Published on June 23, 2020
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