Giving new life to digital world

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva - The Philippine Star

For any crisis, there are opportunities. This popular saying is oftentimes invoked because of how the word “crisis” is spelled out in two Chinese characters. The first Chinese character symbolizes danger while the second character represents chance or opportunity. Here in the Philippines, the outbreak of the 2019 coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic is declared a public health crisis.

People found ingenious, alternative ways through technological gadgets and online applications (App) to make our lives more bearable, if not easier, while the C-19 public health crisis persists and lockdowns must exist. Thanks to the advancements of information and communications technology. Some people have even turned them as a new source of business, jobs and income that they lost as a direct consequence of the C-19 contagion.

This fueled the digital world to run the economies, rev them back to high gears to growth and to prosper anew.

Acknowledging its importance, the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging and Infectious Diseases (IATF-MEID) is also utilizing the digital technology to help run the government’s anti-COVID measures. However, in the midst of the C-19 crisis, we still hear government officials at cross hairs with each other.

The latest case of which came out when former Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) undersecretary Eliseo Rio Jr. tried – but apparently failed – to throw a monkey’s wrench into the IATF’s use of digital technology. Rio questioned though IATF’s decision to “exclusively use” the private company-developed StaySafe App to do contact tracing of COVID-19 positive cases. Rio accused the IATF of highly questionable move to use the StaySafe App which he claims was already showing its supposed disastrous effects. He blames it to the steep rise lately of C-19 cases in the Philippines.

In his personal Facebook account, Rio raised his suspicions on possible irregularities when President Duterte finally accepted his letter of resignation last May 22. This was after Rio first tendered resignation last Jan. 21 following his tiff with DICT Secretary Gregorio Honasan. The Chief Executive appointed last May 26 his presidential adviser on economic and information communications technology Ramon “RJ” Jacinto to replace Rio as DICT undersecretary.

Rio’s perorations apparently did not hold water, so to speak. The government – led by the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) – is even developing another contact tracing App for C-19 infected individuals. Called as SafePass, the App is an all-digital, contact-free authorizing, scheduling and contact-tracing solution. Science Secretary Fortunato dela Peña announced last week this is now undergoing pilot testing in two DOST facilities in Metro Manila in collaboration with tech startup company Unawa.

With the lockdowns being gradually relaxed by the IATF, the movement of people is no longer much restricted. Thus, the DOST chief noted, the SafePass will be another contact tracing option for government agencies. For now, SafePass is planned to be utilized in the entire DOST system, he disclosed.

Department of Tourism (DOT) Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat announced much earlier that they, too, will provide free digital solutions for DOT-accredited establishments to meet the “new normal.” In our Kapihan sa Manila Bay news forum Webinar last week, the DOT chief presented Talino Ventures Lab chief executive officer Winston Damarillo as the provider of SafePass App timed with the start of “soft opening” of domestic tourism “travel bubbles” within the confines of community quarantined areas.

Considered as a major driver of the Philippine growth, the country’s tourism industry is among the hardest hit sector of the economy. This was largely due to the lockdowns against travels that IATF imposed to slow down, it not stop, the spread of the C-19 contagion.

The DOT project, according to Damarillo, has been developed in collaboration with the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) to bring its SafePass App to all tourism-business entities like hotels, restaurants, tour transports, just to name some. SafePass, is an all-digital, contact-free authorizing, scheduling, and contact tracing solution that will enable tourism-related businesses to operate safely during the C-19 pandemic situation.

In the Kapihan sa Manila Bay news forum Webinar last week, Damarillo told us Talino Ventures Lab is eyeing for a more inclusive reopening of restaurants and other tourism establishments by offering its digital technology solution free of charge to small businesses. Romulo-Puyat could not agree more, citing the SafePass App will be offered for free only to DOT-accredited restaurants and other tourism establishments that comply and pass the “minimum health standards and safety protocols” to prevent the spread of C-19 infection.

“We have been working and building a lot of technology for the government actually since the pandemic started like the RapidPass for our frontliners, ReliefAgad for relief (operations), Flag for donations. And is this just the latest SafePass for reopening the business,” Damarillo pointed out.

Among the features of SafePass Express include space planning, registration and health questionnaire, protocol enforcement, and digital incident management. The technological innovation also reduces the burden of manual data capture through its all-digital and contact-free collection of health information from every tourist or guest, and provides an efficient incident management experience with tools for digital contact tracing.

Another Express version of the App called Dine In, which is also free for accredited restaurants, will allow customers to schedule a reservation in a restaurant, following the government’s safe distancing and incident management regulations, book, order and pay their dine-in orders ahead through an all-digital, contact-free menu.

So all of these Apps give new life to the digital world that we have to embrace in the “new normal” while the C-19 crisis remains here.

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