Italian authorities use mobile phones to track population during lockdown

Rome, Mar 18 (efe-epa).- Italian authorities have started using people’s mobile phones to track whether they are abiding by the coronavirus lockdown or not.

The Lombardy region, which has been most affected by the outbreak in the country, has teamed up with technology companies to launch an application that records the population’s movements.

Italy has been the hardest-hit country in Europe by the pandemic and second-worst in the world behind China, where the disease originated in December.

More than 26,000 people have been infected and 2,500 have died from Covid-19 in the Mediterranean country, with 16,000 of the confirmed cases and 1,640 of those fatalities in Lombardy.

Giulio Gallera, the region’s health and welfare minister, said in a television interview on Wednesday that phone data had revealed 40 percent of residents were still leaving their homes.

He added that this was partly “to go to work and partly for other reasons” but that it was still “too many people.”

Gallera said the movements were recorded in an “aggregate and completely anonymous way” and that it was not “like Big Brother”.

The data, which compares the movements of people between 20 February, when Italy’s first case was registered, and now, showed that 60 per ent of residents had stayed at home.

Fabrizio Sala, Lombardy vice-president, said the level is “unfortunately not enough to contain the virus” and urged anyone leaving their homes for “superfluous reasons” to stay inside.

To collect the data technology companies recorded the movement of different phones in areas of between 300 and 500 meters, which meant the shortest trips were left out.

Between 20 February and 1 March, when the first cordon was created around the town of Codogno, movements were reduced to 50 per cent of the population, then increased slightly and declined again after 9 March, when the whole region was a red zone and put into lockdown.

The new coronavirus originated in Wuhan, the capital city of the central Chinese province of Hubei, where authorities are also using technology to try and contain the spread.

Drones have been used to fumigate streets and remind people it is mandatory to wear masks, thermometer-cars patrolled the streets and mobile applications inform where the nearest cases have been reported.

Authorities have also used data from public transport, telephone operators and even pharmacies, which in some cities are required to register the identity of those who buy certain medicine to detect possible infections.

Cars equipped with infrared temperature measurement systems have been deployed to recognise people’s faces and measure temperatures from two meters away, issuing a warning if someone has a fever, a common symptom of the virus.

The disease has spread around the world, with more than 200,000 global cases in at least 150 countries and deaths exceeding 8,000, and has been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization. EFE-EPA


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