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Quarantine wristbands: How some countries are boosting surveillance

It has 19,984 confirmed cases of coronavirus, including 640 deaths, and experts fear the epidemic’s peak could still be weeks away. Thousands of wristbands are expected to be deployed, but an exact figure has not been released.

People squat as they wait outside a bank to withdraw money during lockdown on the outskirts of Jammu, India.

People squat as they wait outside a bank to withdraw money during lockdown on the outskirts of Jammu, India.Credit:AP

Broadcast Engineering Consultants India, a government-owned company, will present wristband designs to hospitals and state governments next week and work with Indian start-ups to manufacture them.

George Kuruvilla, the company’s chairman, said the wristbands are likely to be rolled out in May.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has urged the country’s 1.3 billion people to download a government contact-tracing app called Arogya Setu to help determine their infection risk. It has been downloaded more than 50 million times since it was launched on April 2.

Kuruvilla said the wristbands could integrate data captured in the app.

He said the wristbands would be used to monitor the movements of quarantined patients, both at home and at hospitals, and any spikes in their body temperature. They would send an alert to public health officials if patients moved outside their quarantine zone. The devices will also have an emergency button that wearers can use to call for help, and to let health workers know if people they encounter have been to high-risk areas or have been in contact with an infected person.

People wearing protective masks stand along the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront in Hong Kong. The city is extending social distancing restrictions for another two weeks.

People wearing protective masks stand along the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront in Hong Kong. The city is extending social distancing restrictions for another two weeks.Credit:Bloomberg

It would capture all the places an infected person has visited, the routes they took, determine if they had travelled overseas and identify those who were in their vicinity. It would also track if a sick person is nearby.

The bracelets could help create a virtual fence around areas being monitored, such as common meeting places, public transit or religious institutions. A person leaving or entering the virtual perimeter could be alerted through the wristband.

The monitoring has raised privacy concerns.

Coronavirus testing kits move along a production line in Chuncheon, South Korea. Experts say one of the reasons the country has managed to avoid lockdowns or business bans is its aggressive testing and contact tracing program.

Coronavirus testing kits move along a production line in Chuncheon, South Korea. Experts say one of the reasons the country has managed to avoid lockdowns or business bans is its aggressive testing and contact tracing program.Credit:AP

Dr Anant Bhan, a public health and bioethics expert, said it is “important to factor in privacy protections and data protections” for both apps and wristbands.

“It is also important to ensure that where possible, consent is sought for the use of location tracking and sharing. Such initiatives could be useful for public health and surveillance purposes, but should not be used to stigmatise individuals or communities,” he said.

AP

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