One phone for contact tracing, agri-info, online schooling

GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc - The Philippine Star

Contact tracing can replace pandemic lockdowns. But it is only as good as a subject’s memory. After days of track down interviewees may not recall all recent whereabouts and with whom. Tech can fill those memory gaps to effectively fight COVID-19.

Being perfected are apps that run on Bluetooth low power or Wi-Fi. Voluntary on users’ part, they do not ask for personal data that can be bases for mass surveillance, as in China. Cryptography records in a user’s gadget those with whom he had contact, when, and for how long, but not any SIM or serial number. Each encounter randomly is assigned a code, stored in the gadget, never in any Big Brother databank. If one user happens to get infected or shows symptoms, he alerts the system without identifying self or location. Other users recently exposed to him are in turn alerted to potential need for testing and isolation. (See https://www.wired.com/story/covid-19-contact-tracing-apps-cryptography/). Google and Apple jointly will launch a prototype soon.

For contact tracing apps to work everyone must have a smartphone.

Restarting the economy is the aim of lifting lockdowns. Supply, demand and liquidity are to be perked up. Food will be central in recovery, says economist Calixto Chikiamko. Activity must shift to rural areas: agriculture, agribusiness, farm input and machineries, poultry, cattle, dairy, farm-to-market road building, forestry, upland facilities, watershed development, clean mining, fisheries, aquaculture, mangrove replanting, reef protection, to name a few.

Info-tech will be crucial for farmers and rural traders, poultry and cattlemen, foresters and fisher folk. Incomes will depend on timely field reports on weather, financing, and market needs, trends, logistics, supplies, and prices. Education and training are needed too for productivity.

Again for online connectivity everybody must have a smartphone.

Schooling has to resume soon. Society cannot depend on untrained and working parents to initiate formal homeschooling. More so if parents due to poverty had not themselves gone to school, points out Love Basillote, executive director of the NGO Philippine Business for Education. Return to school need not always be in classroom settings either, say Education Sec. Leonor Briones and Higher Education chairman Prospero de Vera. Until a vaccine is invented against SARS-CoV-2, schoolchildren must be physically distanced. That would require bigger space and smaller class size. Yet the country has always been short of classrooms.

Obviously info-tech again can solve the lack of learning facilities. Students can be taught online in subjects that do not need physical attendance. Online learning has been in practice for three decades. Modules have long been developed in many lands for different grade levels and subjects – Reading, Writing, Science, Math, Social Studies.

For that to be effective each student must have a smartphone.

Is it possible to combine app-based contact tracing, rural info-tech, and online schooling into one program? Seventy-five percent of 110 million Filipinos reportedly are wired. Excluding infants and toddlers, about 20 million Filipinos do not have smartphones. Can the government shift future social amelioration funds from food to gadgets and universal connectivity? No need for sophisticated gadgetry. Rudimentary phones with bare Wi-Fi would do. But nothing should stop those with high-end extra units at home from donating in this game-changing new normal.

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Gratitude to San Miguel Corp. The conglomerate is putting up for free in Metro Manila’s 17 cities more testing booths in high-incidence areas of COVID-19. Plus, test kits to give the poorest communities access to free testing. SMC president-COO Ramon S. Ang said the booths strategically would be located where direst needed “so our local officials can easily ask citizens to get tested.” That complements the national government’s construction of “swabbing mega-centers” and quarantine facilities in key commercial zones. “Our aim is to help flatten the curve in our less fortunate barangays,” said Ang.

SMC is rushing completion of own processing labs for regular testing of its 70,000 employees in food, agribusiness and other essential businesses.

Ang also batted for price regulation of testing, noting reports that people pay as much as P4,000 or higher for COVID-19 tests. While kits are in global shortage, SMC is able to acquire stocks at only P1,500 apiece. “We believe that’s a fair enough charge rate for medical facilities that use donated equipment and protective gear,” Ang said.

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Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8 to 10 a.m., DWIZ (882-AM).

My book “Exposés: Investigative Reporting for Clean Government” is available on Amazon: Exposés: Investigative Reporting for Clean Government

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Gotcha archives: www.philstar.com/columns/134276/gotcha

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