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Contact Tracing and Isolation during COVID-19 !

Governments should take the lead from other countries

Although his bigger claim to fame may be that he is my friend, Prof Shashi Shekhar of the University of Minnesota is a huge name in the field of spatial computing — the technology used in navigation systems and social media location tagging.

The other day the Scientific American published his opinion in which he says that privacy concerns notwithstanding, governments should take the lead from Israel and use trajectory or location data from smartphones to identify people who may have come in contact with a COVID-19 positive person and send them text messages to enforce their isolation. This contact tracing can start with preparing a registry of infected patients and using their smartphone data to find out other smartphones that may have come in their close physical proximity. Once the contacts have thus been identified, public safety communication technology can be used to alert them and advise/instruct them to isolate themselves.

The technical terms used in the piece by Prof Shekhar may be beyond an ordinary medic like me, but the key intervention is not. Once the virus enters a human body, it makes the person ill. If it stays just in that body, there are two possible outcomes. Either the victim’s body will make antibodies to kill the virus or the virus will cause a severe enough illness to kill the victim. Either way the virus is destined to perish. That is if it remained in the same human body. So, it finds a way to survive. It gets transmitted to another body. And to another. What strict isolation of an infected person does is to break this chain of transmission of infection.

It is a tribute to Shekhar’s mastery of the science that makes this contact tracing sound so simple. In reality, it must be a lot of work. And at great expense to the governments. Democratic governments have another politically sensitive obstacle to fight with — the human right to privacy, which activists would not like violated even if that was to protect lives.

Members of the public at large do not have such constraints. They probably know if they have come in close contact of a COVID-19 suspect. They definitely know if they have come in contact with a stranger who must be treated and dealt with in the same manner as a suspect in the current climate. Isolate yourself for 14 days. Or better still, nip it in the bud, eliminate the possibility of coming in contact with a possible victim. Isolate yourself. Stay at home. If you must go out, keep a safe distance, don’t touch things willy-nilly and when you come back, wash your hands with soap and water. Be safe, be responsible, be considerate. Your indiscretion can be dangerous for you, for your loved ones, for the society.

Dr Vibhash Mishra, UK,Chief Medical Officer Second Medic Inc