Czech Republic launches ‘smart quarantine’ to locate and isolate infections

By Gustavo Monge

Prague, May 1 (efe-epa).- The Czech Republic launched an innovative “smart quarantine” on Friday to locate and isolate coronavirus infections as restrictions are lifted in the country.

Epidemiologists, health professionals, phone companies and citizens have collaborated on the concept, which has been designed to allow any new outbreaks of Covid-19 in the country to be detected and contained.

Deputy health minister Roman Prymula said the plan has been designed to respond to an eventual second wave of the pandemic.

It will allow for lockdown measures to be relaxed in stages up to 8 June and has been based on the World Health Organization’s “test, track and trace” recommendation, which involves testing to locate infections and tracking people’s movement to trace anyone who had contact with a patient so that they can be isolated.

There have been more than 7,500 confirmed cases in the central European country, which has a population of 10.6 million, and just under 230 deaths, one of the lowest fatality rates on the continent.

The “smart quarantine” system will begin by obtaining consent from infected people so that their phone operator can provide data on their movements over the last five days.

This data will be anonymous to safeguard privacy rights and will be handed over to the authorities to help track down anyone they have had contact with.

“The map is destroyed after six hours,” Prymula said.

A team of call centre workers will contact these people and will have the power to put them into preventive quarantine.

Those who have been affected will have two days to be tested at a specialist centre or in a home visit from medics.

The health ministry has also launched a mobile application which has been downloaded more than 100,000 times that alerts individuals if someone they have come into contact with has tested positive.

This technology operates through bluetooth and does not accumulate information on people’s movements but only on their proximity to others using the app.

Both systems have been used by Asian countries, such as South Korea, and have been successful in helping to contain the pandemic.

There have been some concerns raised over the scheme, with 60 health professionals signing an open letter to the government expressing doubts on its effectiveness and necessity given the low number of cases in the country.

Prymula responded: “Now we are trying to prepare for the so-called second wave. If there is a new upswing in the infected, we will not be able to face it in the same way as until now.”

The Czech parliament has only prolonged the country’s state of emergency until 17 May which means the government will have to approve special powers so the health ministry can continue to restrict social and economic activity, according to its schedule on relaxing restrictions.

Although many of the limitations have been eased, the use of face masks in public spaces and maintaining a minimum distance between people continue to be mandatory in public spaces. EFE-EPA


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