By Elesha George
The government of Antigua and Barbuda is finalising plans to invest in a Covid-19 app which has the capability to track patients and those suspected of being exposed to the virus.
It is one of several measures to prepare for any eventuality where the government may have to close its borders or restrict travellers from certain countries, if the spread of Covid-19 becomes too big of a risk.
On Tuesday, the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) said Antigua and Barbuda should adapt the list of countries which are not allowed to travel to their ports as a way to suppress the virus.
PAHO’s incident manager, Dr Sylvain Aldighieri, explained that countries should have a clear picture of the dynamics of the pandemic in every other country and be willing to modulate and adjust its travel recommendations regarding access to their ports.
On Thursday, in response to a question posed on whether the government was taking the advice of PAHO, Information Minister Melford Nicholas said, “we are thinking about it”.
In fact, Nicholas said the proposed Covid-19 app will complement PAHO’s suggestion as it is capable of tracking persons arriving in Antigua and even monitoring those in quarantine or isolation.
The app, which is connected to the International Air Transport Association’s (IATA) platform, will have the ability to perform contact tracing electronically.
The minister said the app requires anyone who is quarantined to check-in every 15 minutes, using their mobile phones, to indicate that they are still within the outlined quarantine area.
“They are polled and given some questions to answer. They have to give back some health information – temperature and some things like that and they have to give a video screening of themselves.
“So if you’re doing it from a location that you’re not allowed to be at, then the health officials will know and then they can begin to put other measures in place to provide further security,” he explained.
People without mobile phones have the option of using a bracelet that tracks their movements.
“This whole application system is going to automate and give the Ministry of Health more time to focus on the health of persons coming into the jurisdiction,” Nicholas remarked.
The app is a replica of jamcovid19 – a web and mobile app created by technicians in Jamaica for the Jamaica government.
The goal of the application is to allow officials to centrally develop, manage and disseminate information critical to reducing cases of Covid-19, while assembling the information of multiple ministries and other stakeholders on one platform.
Currently, the government said it is in discussion with “two experts” who have firsthand knowledge of the application.
The announcement has caused discord among local technicians who took to social media last week, expressing that they are being sidelined by not being invited to create the app.
However, Minister Nicholas remarked that the government does not have “the luxury of time” that it would take for local technicians to recreate such an application.
“There are certain constraints that we are working with. We are operating in an environment where our tourism product has to be competitive with other regional operations and we did not have the luxury of time of developing a local app,” he said.
“The distance between specification and development can sometimes, on the lower end, be as short as six months and sometimes it can be as long as two years,” he explained.
The technicians, however, will have an opportunity to show off their skills once there is better understanding of the application, the minister promised.
Once the experts have retrofitted the product to meet the requirements of Antigua and Barbuda, Nicholas said the government would then be able to engage local technicians to find out whether they can “clone the same facilities”.
According to Nicholas, four Caricom countries have already indicated that they intend to adopt this platform.
By Elesha George