Philippines eyes consolidation of COVID-19 contact-tracing data

Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 27 2020 11:16 AM | Updated as of Nov 27 2020 05:34 PM

Philippines eyes consolidation of COVID-19 contact-tracing data 1
Customers provide contact details for contact tracing before being entertained at a shop selling beauty products in Caloocan City on Aug. 19, 2020. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

MANILA — The Philippines' coronavirus task force has approved the consolidation of contact-tracing data from digital applications, Malacañang said Friday, some 8 months into varying degrees of lockdown meant to contain an unabated first wave of the pandemic.

The inter-agency task force, which met Thursday, said digital contact tracing data "shall conform with specific minimum data requirements" that the health department set, according to Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque.

Data on the contacts of COVID-19 patients from health facilities, establishments, workplaces, transport hubs, and local government units "shall be submitted to a centralized tracing data repository, which will be linked to either COVID-Kaya or the COVID-19 Document Repository System (CDRS)," he said in a statement.

StaySafe.ph "will be the government’s digital contact tracing application of choice and will be made mandatory for adoption and use in all national government agencies and instrumentalities as well as LGUs," he said.

Private establishments, facilities and offices are encouraged to use Staysafe.ph while for those with existing contact tracing applications they are enjoined to integrate their systems with the Staysafe.ph system, Roque added.

The IATF also created a group that will join the Coordinated Operations to Defeat Epidemic (CODE) Team "in their various seminars with local government units throughout the country" to provide support on the use of the pandemic information systems, said Roque.

The new Data Resiliency for Ease Access and Management (DREAM) Team will be composed of information and communications personnel from the following, he said.

  • Department of Information and Communications Technology
  • Department of Health
  • Department of Science and Technology
  • Philippine National Police-Directorate for Information and Communication Technology
  • Armed Forces of the Philippines-Information Systems Management Division

"The DREAM Team will not be involved in any data collection activities. The involvement of the PNP-DICTM and the AFP-ISMD in the Team is because they can supplement/augment the ICT capacity needed," said Roque.

"The creation of this ICT Team would empower LGUs to be more confident in using the ICT ecosystem that will help us defeat the COVID-19 pandemic," he added.

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The new guidelines came a week after the country's COVID-19 contact tracing czar Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong agreed with the World Health Organization's recent assessment that the Philippines' contact tracing efforts were "a little weak."

"It is true," Magalong said in a public briefing, noting that about only 7 contacts are identified for every patient with COVID-19.

Ideally, authorities should find about 37 contacts in urban areas and 30 contacts in rural areas, he said.

The lack of a data encoding system is a "major factor" for contact tracing lapses in some local governments, Magalong said.

"Mano-mano pa rin and arbitrary pa rin nila fini-fill out," he said. "Hula-hula na lang, pero 'pag tatanungin mo sa kaniya, ano ba iyong line list contacts ni Magalong, wala silang maipakita... There is no system."

(Filling out contact tracing forms is still manual and arbitrary. It is just a guess. If you ask them who are the line list contacts of Magalong, they can't show anything.)

The Philippines as of Friday has confirmed over 425,000 coronavirus infections.