By Gemma Handy
The first batch of high-tech bracelets that will be used to track the movements of people in quarantine are set to be rolled out this evening.
Government revealed yesterday that 200 of the wrist-worn devices had arrived in the country, and that it was now poised to buy an additional 300 to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Information Minister Melford Nicholas told a press briefing yesterday that the bracelets would likely begin circulation on Friday night and be in full distribution next week.
Training for staff tasked with overseeing their use is nearing completion, he said.
“One of the measures we are going to put in place is the establishment of a command centre for the Ministry of Health, where not only will we have people monitoring the use of these bracelets, we will also have emergency personnel on standby,” Nicholas told journalists at Thursday’s post-Cabinet meeting press conference.
“We will also have security personnel on standby to ensure that if there are any reports where there’s been any drastic change in the health of any person in quarantine that we can respond immediately.
“And if there’s any breach in terms of someone leaving the quarantine area, we can be alerted and respond before anything deleterious happens,” he said.
Nicholas said the bracelets had been deemed necessary due to people flouting quarantine rules and putting the nation at risk.
He cited examples of people being seen in public places within hours of being ordered to isolate.
“We have had a number of concerns raised by banks and other vendors who had become aware that persons who had travelled home from abroad have, the very next day, gone to do commerce. This was presenting a risk to society,” Nicholas said.
Devices using geo-fencing technology or GPS location tracking, which send an alert to authorities if the wearer ventures beyond a stipulated boundary, are already in use in a raft of countries around the world, from the Cayman Islands to Singapore.
Elijah James, the software engineer behind a local Covid app, told Observer the type to be used in Antigua and Barbuda would probably operate using a SIM card, similar to those in cellphones.
“You get a SIM card, put it into the bracelet, lock it with a special key around the person’s wrist and create a geo-perimeter, which is basically a map that the SIM card is connected to,” he explained.
“So once you step outside that map – just like on your cell phone when walking away from a tower if you step out of that tower range – it sends an alert back to the authorities to say you’ve been out of your space.”
Nicholas said the government was satisfied that the technology would prove efficient.
“They are pretty nice looking bracelets; they look no different to a wristwatch,” he continued.
“They will improve the surveillance and monitoring of persons who are isolated as they are able to give a report back to officials of not only the wearer’s temperature but also their heartbeat conditions. So they are able to have automatic alerts if those two health indicators change, and they’re going to be able to respond in a much quicker manner,” the minister added.
Parliament is due to convene on December 15 to discuss and amend various Covid-related regulations.
Among them are laws governing travellers who arrive in Antigua without evidence of a negative PCR coronavirus test. Such passengers may risk being fined, tested at the airport and quarantined at their own expense, minutes released from Wednesday’s Cabinet meeting said.