SINCE the latest news has shown the great challenges faced by the Ministry of Health (MOH) regarding contact tracing to determine the close contacts of COVID-19 patients, it would be the right time to improve our existing contact tracing technology amid this third wave of infection to help reduce the burden of our beloved front-liners.
This is because better contact tracing technology would facilitate the contact tracing tasks, where the country could urgently control the COVID-19 transmission. Otherwise, the pandemic would continuously thwart the recovery efforts of our public health and economy.
To prevent the current situation from worsening, it needs the Government’s fast response. Perhaps the Government may follow the Selangor state government’s move to improve the Selangkah contact tracing application to enable COVID-19 patients to be self-monitored at home.
Therefore, the MySejahtera application should also be improved by the Government to make contact tracing tasks more convenient for the parties involved in the process. It can be done by adding more convenient features that are easier to handle than before.
The health experts also emphasise this as they urged the Government to allocate more people and employ digital solutions to reduce the MOH’s difficulty on contact tracing efforts.
Since we are also facing the scarcity of healthcare resources, many close contacts of COVID-19 patients would have to undergo self-monitoring, as quarantine centres have been fully occupied. This is where a fully functional Mysejahtera app could probably address the issue.
Indeed, the movement control order (MCO) introduced by the Government could help curb the COVID-19 spread, along with the COVID-19 vaccine that will be distributed to the rakyats.
However, contact tracing management should also be made easier through improved technology as it can reduce the possibility of longer MCOs that could increase the burden of rakyats on many aspects of life.
According to Dr Musa Mohd Nordin, Consultant Pediatrician and Neonatologist of KPJ Damansara Specialist Hospital, if the FTTIIS, which is the acronym for Find, Test, Trace, Isolate, Identify and Support System for combating the virus is not correctly handled by the Government, we will have MCO on an ongoing basis.
Nevertheless, this would also entail the rakyat’s full cooperation with the MOH to further facilitate the contact tracing tasks, preventing the virus from spreading rapidly.
According to health experts, the major contact tracing issues arise because certain people are still reluctant to undergo screening or fail to disclose their symptoms.
So, in this critical situation, it is hoped the rakyat should stop being selfish and work together to help our country flatten the COVID-19 curve as soon as possible.
There have also been 4,000 recent daily cases that potentially need our nation to focus more on managing the pandemic. Thus, our COVID-19 management is put under severe stress due to the alarming surge in cases that requires the front-liners to work their fingers to the bone in the fight against the pandemic.
The healthcare workers in Johor also reported thousands of close contacts arising from the index case would need to be traced. Because of its critical aspect, the mechanism should not be ignored at all to control the spread of the COVID-19 virus and prevent the situation from worsening.
Unlike previously, the MOH could easily handle contact tracing since the daily cases have not reached this high. The preceding daily cases were just three digits and the MOH managed to use the current technology to determine the close contacts for the previous clusters.
However, this third wave of infection is beyond our imagination that the nation would truly need to deal with the pandemic by every possible measure. In this scenario, apart from the MCO and COVID-19 vaccines, better contact tracing technology could undoubtedly help our country a lot.
With better technology and digital employment, the authorities involved in contact tracing systems, such as police and other forces, may assist the MOH in the tasks and lessen their burden on identifying and managing close contacts.
Besides, this will also be a good opportunity for public-private cooperation. The Health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah stated that the private sector should start to use contact tracing technology to cooperate with the Government in addressing the pandemic issue.
But this is also the part where the Government should be careful because the MySejahtera app’s data should be indeed protected and used only for COVID-19 management and not for other purposes.
Not just that, there is also one big problem to note: the level of usage of the contact tracing app has not yet achieved a significant percentage in detecting close contacts.
As of November, the MOH COVID-19 management app has tracked only 7,606 cases (an average of around 26.5%) of close contacts.
Thus, the contact tracing technology should be further improved this year due to the third wave of infection so that the percentage of close contacts tracked by the app could be increased and subsequently allow the MOH to more effectively curb the COVID-19 through contact tracing.
Farhan Kamarulzaman is a Research Assistant at EMIR Research, an independent think tank focused on strategic policy recommendations based on rigorous research.