StaySafe app has 'almost no impact' on PH's contact tracing efforts, Duque admits

Published August 26, 2021, 9:58 AM

by Vanne Elaine Terrazola

Despite the national government mandating its use in all establishments in the Philippines and by local government units since last year, the StaySafe application made “almost no impact” on the country’s contact tracing efforts.

A mall goer scans a QR code before entry into the establishment. The national government requires the use of the StaySafe as its digital contact tracing application of choice. (Courtesy of StaySafe PH/Facebook)

No less than Health Secretary Francisco Duque III admitted this on Wednesday, August 25, when the matter was taken up during the hearing of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee.

“Yeah, I think it’s very limited, almost no impact, but I think the DICT (Department of Information and Communications Technology) should really make sure, make the effort to explain,” Duque said.

“I’m not a technical guy on this…My knowledge is superficial on this,” he added, stressing to the Senate panel that the DICT is the “best agency to answer” on the application’s rollout.

Before this, Senator Pia Cayetano questioned the purpose of the StaySafe app and its effectiveness in the government’s contact tracing efforts.

The app, she observed, has only been serving as a “digital logbook” of entry in business establishments.

“Because in truth and in fact, the Stay Safe app is merely a digital log of ‘yong nakasulat sa logbook na papel (those written in the paper). That’s all it does. It’s all in our imagination that it is interconnected with the national government tracing system or the local governmet tracking system, because it is not,” Cayetano said.

“That system isn’t really in place,” the senator lamented.

Duque explained that his impression was that the StaySafe was supposed to be connected to the “COVID Kaya”, the Department of Health’s (DOH) data repository system for confirmed and probable COVID-19 patients, so it can be used to trace their close contacts.

“But it was since March pa eh, the last time we had an update,” he told the senators.

DICT Undersecretary Emmanuel Rey Caintic, for his part, said the StaySafe “was not just supposed to be a logbook but also to facilitate the recording of the contact tracing done by LGUs.”

But months since it was implemented, Caintic said the agency is still working on integrating all existing contact tracing apps to the StaySafe.

“After 18 months into the pandemic, and this realization came about just now. No wonder we’re in a roller coaster ride,” Senator Sherwin Gatchalian on Thursday, August 26, said of the officials’ admission in the hearing.

The Interagency Task Force (IATF) on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases issued in November, 2020 a resolution designating the StaySafe.Ph as the government’s digital contact tracing app “of choice” and requiring its use across all government agencies and LGUs.

Those already using their own contact tracing application should integrate their system with StaySafe, the resolution stated.

The IATF, which Duque co-chairs, later ordered establishments to also adopt the use of the StaySafe app.

Last May, Baguio City mayor and contact tracing czar Benjamin Magalong said contact tracing was the “weakest link” in the government’s response against the coronavirus pandemic. He also noted during a House hearing that contact tracing efforts in the country regions were “deteriorating”.

Duque said he will “echo the concern to the DICT during the next IATF” meeting.