The application notifies its users whenever they make contact with COVID-19 patients.
Rabat – Morocco’s Ministry of Health and Ministry of the Interior revealed the first details of a soon-to-be-launched mobile application to track COVID-19 infections during an online press conference on May 11.
Titled “Wiqaytna” (“Our safety”), the application received the approval of the National Commission for the Protection of Personal Data on May 10.
A multidisciplinary team from several public and private institutions took part in the development of the application. The software is currently in a trial phase and will soon be launched for public use, but the launch date is not yet official.
The director of information systems and communication at the Ministry of Interior, Abdelhak Harrak, and the director of epidemiology at the Ministry of Health, Mohamed Lyoubi, both participated in yesterday’s conference. Harrak presented the technical aspects of the application, while Lyoubi explained its utility from a medical standpoint.
Not compulsory, but encouraged
“The usage of the application will be based on volunteering,” stressed Harrak. “However, its success would require the mobilization of citizens.”
For the application to be successful, a large number of people must use it, the senior official continued, without specifying a minimal threshold for its efficacy.
“The more citizens are using it, the more its chances of success are important,” Lyoubi reiterated.
When two application users are near each other, encrypted and anonymous information is shared between their smartphones via Bluetooth.
“If one of the users tests positive for COVID-19 in the 21 days following the contact, the other user will receive a notification, including a series of recommendations,” Lyoubi explained.
The encrypted data will remain stocked in the smartphone and the Ministry of Health will only share necessary information after a user tests positive for the virus.
The application will allow health monitoring units to track those who made contact with COVID-19 patients in the 21 days prior to testing positive to contain the pandemic’s spread.
To assure of the application’s respect for privacy, Harrak stressed the application will only be used during the COVID-19 pandemic and all the collected data will be destroyed after the epidemic situation in the country stabilizes. The official also announced that the application’s code will be open source.
Beneficial for everyone
The application will have a series of benefits for individuals, health authorities, and the country as a whole, Harrak said.
For individuals, the application will notify users of their exposure to the novel coronavirus, help them seek a quick medical response and to avoid infecting their relatives, friends, and colleagues.
For health authorities, “Wiqaytna” will facilitate identifying people who made contact with COVID-19 patients, accelerate medical intervention to prevent the spread of the virus, and optimize the use of COVID-19 tests.
On the national level, the application will help reduce the spread of the virus, further reduce the COVID-19 fatality rate, and help decision-makers quickly implement proactive measures.
The application is expected to greatly facilitate the work of the health ministry’s monitoring teams since it will provide a comprehensive list of individuals who made contact with COVID-19 patients in the previous three weeks.
“When a confirmed case is declared, the ministry’s team start the epidemiological investigation to identify the [people they made contact with] in the recent days. [Patients] can name their close relatives, their friends, their colleagues … But it is very difficult to identify the people they made an extended contact with in shopping centers or supermarkets,” Lyoubi explained.
“Sometimes, standing in queues in supermarkets can take up to 20 or 30 minutes. We do not know if the people in front or behind of us are infected or not. The application will help in such cases,” he continued.
Investigations will continue regularly, Lyoubi stressed, saying, “The application will only be a plus.”
The ministry’s investigations to monitor people who made contact with COVID-19 patients have so far helped detect 80% of Morocco’s coronavirus cases. The application will only help identify the “invisible” people who made contact with the patient without them knowing, notably in public spaces.
More COVID-19 tests
The launch of the application will go hand in hand with an increase in the frequency of COVID-19 tests, Lyoubi announced, since the software will allow health authorities to better target their tests and optimize them.
“We have more than 14 laboratories with a total capacity of 3,550 tests per day and we will increase the capacity to 10,000 daily tests soon,” Lyoubi said.
The increased test frequency and the application will help to quickly detect COVID-19 hotspots and contain the pandemic. The majority of coronavirus cases detected in recent days are recorded within families or industrial production units.
On Monday, May 11, the Ministry of Health detected 196 out of 218 newly-announced COVID-19 cases, or 90% of the cases, in hotspots.
To deal with the issue of gatherings, the ministry is planning to release a second version of the “Wiqaytna” application, specifically designed for workspaces, since they can host hundreds of workers at the same time, Harrak announced.
While the project seems promising, it remains to be seen whether citizens will adhere to it for better efficacy, especially as May 20, the scheduled date for lifting the nationwide lockdown, is nearing.