Need for just one contact tracing app stressed

Manila 1st district Rep. Manuel "Manny" Luis Lopez amplified on Wednesday calls for the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) to come up with a single application or system in the COVID-19 contact tracing efforts.

Manila 1st district Rep. Manuel "Manny" Luis Lopez

"Time is of the essence and we cannot afford to be lax. Making an app at this point in time would be very material in containing the pandemic," said Lopez during a mixed live and virtual hearing of the House Committee on Metro Manila Development, which he chairs.

The hearing was held in order to give House members an idea on the current status of contact tracing amid the COVID-19 pandemic where over 202,000 positive cases in the country have been recorded since late January.

During the hearing, DICT Director Gian Carlo Ignacio bared to the panel that the agency was "supporting" at least six applications or systems. These are KiraCovid, Telemed, StaySafe, CovidKaya, TanodCovid, and FASSSTER.

Ignacio said KiraCovid and Telemed were developed by the Department of Health (DOH), StaySafe by Multysis, CovidKaya by Dure, and TanodCovid and FASSSTER by the Department of Science and Technology.

He noted that DOH currently owns all apps, except for StaySafe which is under the control of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG). Incidentally, StaySafe is also the sole app endorsed by the Inter-Agency Task Force for the management of emerging infectious diseases in the Philippines, the main group addressing COVID-related matters.

"Don't you think we should have a unified system of application that would be accessible to the common people? Once again I'd like to reiterate that from the beginning, we mentioned that community involvement is paramount in this task of ours," Lopez said.

"Currently there are efforts and discussions on how we can integrate the systems mentioned in order to facilitate a wider scope of contact tracing efforts. We are working with the developers and application owners on this matter," Ignacio said.

Attending the hearing via Zoom was Contact Tracing czar and Baguio City Mayor, Benjamin Magalong. The soft-spoken Magalong couldn't help but air his frustration over the absence of a designated data collection tool.

"With all due respect to the DICT, I know that you are really working hard and are really working with other proponents of these applications. But the worst thing that a contact tracer or data encoder will do is double-encode or triple-encode," said the retired police general.

"I wish, I wish we can only have one particular data collection tool sana. Para wala nang double-encoding (So as to avoid double-encoding). That is my appeal to you," he told Ignacio.

"Because it delays our action, pati yung analysis natin nade-delay din (even our analysis gets delayed). We know the dynamics, talagang naa-apektuhan kami (we really get affected)," Magalong said.

DILG Undersecretary Ricojudge Echiverri said local government units have practically the same appeal, since the use or multiple apps have become confusing to them.

"That is precisely what the local governments are asking (for). Masyado daw tayo maraming app. Kapag masyadong marami, nakakalito (They say we have too many apps. Too many apps make contact tracing confusing)," he said.

"So one (we need) app that would consolidate all applications to make it simplified and unified. We really have to consolidate and decide which app to use to be promoted to all Metro Manila residents," Echiverri said, referring to the huge challenge that the metropolis continues to pose as far as containing the spread of the virus is concerned.

The DILG is in charge of hiring contract tracers, he said.