Governments have a tendency of keeping information and knowledge away from the people. This is sometimes stated as being for the greater good to avoid panic. Looking at how the data for the Covid-19 Virus is shared in South Africa makes you wonder if it’s a good idea or it’s slowing down our fight against it.
South Korea a country that got it’s latest lesson on how viruses spread in 2015 when businessman travelling from the Middle East developed a fever, cough and ultimately pneumonia when he got back home. He went to several health care facilities before he eventually tested positive for MERS(Middle East Respiratory Syndrome). By this time it was hard to trace his every movement and people he’s been in contact with. The virus affected 138 people and killed 38. By the end of 2015 the government declared an end to outbreak but they didn’t stop their planning there.
In February of this year, South Korea was one of the countries that declared positive cases of the Covid-19 virus and were registering some of the highest confirmed cases in the world. But then while other countries continued to see an increase in positive cases, South Korea started to level off or what we now know as having their curve flatten.
So now the question is how did they do this? After Covid-19 popped up in China, it began to spread around the world and at 30 confirmed cases South Korea worked with biotech companies to develop a test for the novel corona virus. And in no time they had thousands of test ready to go.
Once the hospitals had tests, they started testing people who came in with symptoms of the virus. With every patient that tested positive, they traced their movement, identified who they were in contact with, and tested those people. Those who tested positive were quickly isolated and treated in quarantine.
Now this is pretty much the same thing that we’ve seen in South Africa so far except for one thing, more detailed location data. Looking at person to person contact is not enough in fighting the virus, people touch and hold stuff, door handles, and many other items in their path.
After the MERS outbreak, South Korea passed a law that allowed them to collect a patient’s data and security footage during an outbreak. All their movement and places they’ve been are then logged and shared to alert the public to stay away from the path of infection.
When there’s a confirmed case around your area, you can a text notifying you of that. You’re also told of the patient’s movement from point A to B, so be cautious. South Korea has websites and private apps that compile that information, allowing everyone to see if whether someone with the virus went to a shop, mall, or pharmacy that they have recently visited as well.
This is a way of checking the possibility of infection, lock-downs and restrictions alone aren’t enough. When people are able to see exactly where the hot spots are and where to be cautious. They avoid those areas. This also let’s people know if whether they’ve crossed paths with an infected person so they can go tested for the virus.
There’s a thin line between privacy and public health here, theSouth African government needs to share more data about positive cases and their locations. Though we should be careful not to overshare like the person’s name or address but certainly more information is needed in fighting this virus and what the public is currently been given is just not enough.
We already get SMS’s telling us to wash our hands, why not use this platform to inform people of positive cases around their area, hot spots to avoid, and if they have currently been in a path of contact, they can get tested as well. Some of this can be a lot for the government to do alone but making the data public can allow the public to create free websites and apps that display these locations and help the information spread further.
Inspired by the Video: The big lesson from South Korea’s coronavirus response