Since the Coronavirus outbreak, the Singapore Government have worked tirelessly to ensure that the infected are isolated, contained and all contacts they may have made in recent days prior to infection are track and traced.
These efforts seem to be paying off, as Singapore being one of the first three countries to report a confirmed case of Coronavirus, has largely managed to contain the virus and prevent it from becoming a nationwide crisis.
A huge part of this success is down to the contact tracing efforts of the Governments’ Ministry of Health in collaboration with the Singapore Police Force.
What is Contact Tracing and Why is it important?
People who have had close contact with someone who is infected with the virus are at higher risk of becoming infected and potentially infecting those they have had close contact with. Finding and monitoring these contacts after exposure to an infected person will help them to get adequate care and treatment, and aims to prevent further transmission of the virus.
This monitoring process is called contact tracing, which can be broken down into 3 basic steps as explained by the World Health Organisation:
Contact identification: Once someone is confirmed as infected with a virus, contacts are identified by asking about the person’s activities and the activities and roles of the people around them since the onset of illness. Contacts can be anyone who has been in contact with an infected person: family members, work colleagues, friends, or health care providers.
Contact listing: All persons considered to have contact with the infected person should be listed as contacts. Efforts should be made to identify every listed contact and to inform them of their contact status, what it means, the actions that will follow, and the importance of receiving early care if they develop symptoms.
Contacts should also be provided with information about prevention of the disease. In some cases, quarantine or isolation is required for high-risk contacts, either at home or in hospital.
Contact follow-up: Regular follow-up should be conducted with all contacts to monitor for symptoms and test for signs of infection.
Contact Tracing Procedure in Singapore
The Ministry of Health (MOH) in Singapore is overall in charge of contact tracing operations in Singapore and the police are called in to help in some cases. Where the details of activity or movements of a patient is incomplete and/or further verification is required, the police will come then support MOH in these investigative circumstances.
A recent study carried out by Harvard University estimated that Singapore was detecting three times the number of COVID-19 cases as other countries, thanks to its epidemiological surveillance and contact tracing processes.
Contact tracing starts at the hospital where a patient is admitted, with doctors and nurses drawing an activity map – a detailed breakdown of a patient’s movements from 14 days before symptoms appear and until he is isolated.
The MOH carries out what is known as “backward tracing” of the movements and activity of the infected patient for the two weeks prior to them first identifying symptoms. This then will help identify links to other cases and potential sources of transmission.
MOH officers also do “forward tracing” to identify who the infected patient had contact with after getting symptoms. These people may need to be quarantined and tested if unwell.
When there are gaps, the contact tracers might interview patients again or talk to the next-of-kin, or recruit help from third parties such as hotels and taxis to review surveillance footage and collect any other relevant information.
To help identify links between cases, a separate data management team also uses the activity maps, cross-referencing them with other cases to see if there are overlaps in locations. If such overlaps are found, the contact tracing team conducts a follow-up investigation.
Digital Footprint Assists Contact Tracing
Singapore has a huge team of contact tracers and they make use of all resources, including the police.
Another technique the authorities are using to fill in missing information on infected patients’ activities and contacts is to examine their digital footprint.
This could be to trace their steps on days prior to virus confirmation – like ATMs, shopping centres or restaurants where they have used their cards.
ATM or credit card activity is incredibly useful as it leaves digital footprints everywhere people go. It assists authorities to track and find out where the person has been, where and how they have travelled.
Digital footprint can also help those infected recall their activities and places visited better as it is not always easy to recollect when feeling very unwell or perhaps not well enough to describe their movements in detail.
Can Technology fill in the gaps in contact tracing?
The COVID-19 spread in Singapore has allowed both the government and app developers to harness technology as part of the response. Transparent, timely public information also helps allay people’s fears and anxiety.
Integrating data from the national health bodies, immigration and customs databases, generating data to trace people’s travel history and clinical symptoms, using mobile phones to track people or just keep them updated shows how technology is advantageous in efforts to control the outbreak in these unchartered times.
Ms Linda Teo, Assistant Director of the police’s Analytics Research and Technology Development said “tech tools like data visualisation and word clouds can help draw links between patients. This was how the dots were connected leading to the realisation of a cluster at The Life Church and Missions in Paya Lebar.”
Singapore’s COVID-19 tracking site
The Ministry of Health have lunch a COVID-19 live dashboard providing up-to-date information on the ministry’s website. These updates summarise the current situation in the country. This dedicated COVID-19 site gives very transparent information on each confirmed case.
The website shares the age, sex and occupation of each person who has tested positive for the virus. It reveals where they travelled recently, and when they sought medical help. It explains when they were hospitalised and when they were discharged.
The site only includes cases from Singapore, and it has been commended by other countries. It is believed that no other country has recorded such accurate data, and relentlessly tracked and traced every contact possibly linked to infected patients like Singapore has. No country has released as much detailed information about its coronavirus cases as the city-state.
Success absolutely depends on contact tracing
The goal of contact tracing is to try and keep COVID-19 from spreading. And it seems that the Singapore strategy is key to controlling the virus — test, trace, isolate and inform. And with the governments tech savvy agencies, and their resolve to invest in technology to solve current societal problems along with future thinking leadership – they will remain a step ahead of many other countries worldwide throughout this pandemic.
An incubatee at the Hong Kong Smart Government Innovation Lab recently announced that their latest solution is now ready to be acquired by companies and institutions.
With the development and general application of Video Analytics Technology, smart parking solutions are not bound only to License Plate Recognition and Ticketless functions anymore.
The following systems and features of the solution are also designed by the company to cater to the growing needs of its clients, deriving from the application of Video Analytics Technology:
- Auto-Classification of Vehicle Type for fee-calculation or restriction: the solution can detect the car type, brand and model for different rate structures. It eliminates the need for a separate ticket unit for lorries and is especially suitable for car parks with loading bays and private car bays.
- Dynamic Rate Structure on Bay Location: Different rates can be applied for bays at different locations via video monitoring cameras. Drivers, who are willing to pay more or are in a rush, can park at bays with better locations at higher rates. Thus, bay allocations can be more efficiently managed.
- Bay-Counting function for Motorcycles: Motorcyclists can be informed of the floors with the most spaces on entry. Until recently, this function was, technically, almost unachievable with just sensors for detection in the past.
- Outdoor Parking Space Monitoring/Counting: This feature helps achieve the function of Bay Guidance for outdoor car parks. It is much more cost-effective than installing a sensor on every single bay for detection.
- Loading Bay Barrier-less Monitoring and Charging Function: this feature helps to overcome the general pain point of installing a barrier system for a loading bay for rate calculation and payment.
- Smart Bay Guidance Signage for EV Cars: EV Cars can be directed to the nearest and available bays with EV chargers, highly reducing congestion issues in car parks as well as enhancing user experiences and convenience.
- Mobile Parking Fee Payment via License Plate or Octopus Number: The issues of insufficient remaining values for Octopus Cards at the exit are reduced. This greatly eases the issue of queues at the exit. Vehicles with no outstanding payment can be allowed to leave by detection of the License Plate.
The service pledges for this solution include:
- 98% or above for License Plate Recognition Accuracy Rate
- Provisions of two LPR/Video Cameras per lane at different locations
- Expertise in camera location selection
- Provision of progressive training on OCR engine and Deep Learning capability
- Provision of high-quality preventive maintenance service to the system
The solution can be applied across the areas of City Management, Development, Population and Transport.
Artificial Intelligence (AI), Cloud Computing, Deep Learning, Internet of Things (IoT), Mobile Technologies and Video Analytics are the technologies employed in the solution.
Benefits of the solution include:
- Higher throughput rate for car parks
- Less congestion and queue at entrances and exits
- Effective and fair allocation of car park spaces for public
- Greater automation enables for more efficient management of manpower
- All-rounded Car Park Management Level
- Allows remote control of multiple car parks at a centralized location
- Higher public experience and convenience levels
- Integration with other Smart Solutions
- Data generation for further analysis of service improvement
- More environmentally friendly with fewer requirements on mechanical devices and cables
- Suitable for environments with different conditions
- In-line development with market trend
The Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) has secured over HK$18 million funding from the Health and Medical Research Fund (HMRF) of the Food and Health Bureau (FHB), to commence eight research studies on COVID-19. These projects cover a wide range of disciplines including health technology, biomedical sciences, healthcare, rehabilitation as well as social sciences.
PolyU hopes that research teams from different fields can contribute their expertise to supporting the local community in the fight against COVID-19 and to facilitating the formulation of pandemic control measures, thus helping to protect the health of the general public. The Research Council, chaired by the Secretary for Food and Health, earlier approved the second batch of funding of HK$59 million, to support 23 research projects steered by local universities.
Among these 23 projects, eight are led by PolyU researchers from the Faculty of Health and Social Sciences, representing over 30% of the total funding and the total number of projects in the second batch. The project that received the most funding is a follow-up study on rehabilitation management of COVID-19 survivors, securing more than HK$4.47 million. These eight research studies are expected to last from one to two years.t
The Deputy President and Provost of PolyU stated that since the outbreak of the pandemic, PolyU has been facing unprecedented challenges in teaching, but its concerted determination to overcome these have not diminished the university’s efforts in research. Since February 2020, the institution has developed a rapid automated diagnostic system to detect COVID-19, designed a face shield for general use, and conducted various studies related to the pandemic.
On behalf of PolyU, the Provost expressed gratitude to FHB for taking more health technology and social sciences topics into consideration when granting the second batch of funding under the HMRF, allowing PolyU to conduct research projects on COVID-19 as commissioned by FHB. The university will continue to carry out more forward-looking studies and to keep up our efforts in research.
The Interim Vice President (Research and Innovation) of PolyU noted that the COVID-19 pandemic has lasted for months and has had a tremendous impact on global public health, as well as the economy and livelihood of people. PolyU hopes to utilise its expertise to render support to the community during this difficult time. The institution’s Interim VP also noted that the university is honoured to have eight projects funded by the HMRF and sincerely hope that its scholars can make good use of their research capabilities to support the fight against COVID-19.
The Dean of Faculty of Health and Social Sciences also remarked that COVID-19 has affected people’s psychological well-being, as well as their physical health. Over the years, PolyU faculty has been providing the best education for social and health care professionals. In the face of this challenging time, the university’s faculty, together with its researchers, students and graduates of various disciplines, are working together to address the healthcare and social needs of the community.
The HMRF supports studies and projects initiated by individual investigators as well as those commissioned by the Food and Health Bureau to build research capacity, fill knowledge gaps, support policy formulation, address specific issues, assess needs and threats, conduct health promotion, and more.
The NSW Department of Customer Service (NSW DCS) has appointed a company that provides electronic data interchange (EDI) services for businesses to implement a sustainable e-invoicing solution that streamlines the payment experience for suppliers.
E-invoicing provides faster payments and automates the procure-to-pay process, providing many benefits for DCS and suppliers.
NSW DCS encompasses more than 30 different agencies, entities and business units, with excellent customer service a key goal across the organisation. DCS provides digital leadership and innovation in government services that align with the NSW Digital Government Strategy.
The e-invoicing was implemented using a Peppol-certified access point for NSW DCS, by creating a dedicated gateway on the deployed cloud service that connects to the SAP enterprise resource planning (ERP) system at NSW DCS.
In this gateway, the workflows and business rules have been applied to NSW DCS’s needs, to enable invoice data to be received correctly.
The technology flags any errors with NSW DCS staff and its suppliers. It has also established connections to accounting software used by small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), so suppliers can send e-invoices.
The NSW Digital Government Strategy offers digital services that benefit customers and suppliers. E-invoicing is a streamlined system that enables DCS to pay suppliers within the government-stipulated five-day turnaround period. It is also more affordable for DCS and suppliers, as processing an invoice costs less than $10.
The company was chosen as it met assessment criteria based on functionality and price and offered support and expertise.
It was also able to meet DCS strategic expectations to provide end-to-end automation to the procure-to-pay (P2P) cycle, to scale up throughout all areas of government.
The e-invoicing solution, DCS can pay invoices faster and help its suppliers maintain cashflow. The proprietary Access Point processes these e-invoices securely and accurately, reassuring DCS that its data and supplier information is secure.
It was noted that e-invoicing can make processing and sending invoices faster, more accurate and less expensive for organisations of all sizes, including government departments and private businesses.
The initial pilot was carried out in October 2019; phase one of the project started in January 2020 and went live in March, with phase two currently underway.
About the NSW Digital Government Strategy
The NSW Digital Government Strategy represents a vision for ICT reform and cultural change within the NSW Government.
The former ICT Strategy series provided a strong foundation which the government has built upon in consultation with industry partners and across government. The aim is to extend this to a partnership with the community.
The new Strategy is just an upgrade; it provides the backbone for the delivery of next-level, improved, user-centric services. It will ensure that the NSW Government is connected, customer-focussed and outcomes-driven.
Amongst other things, the NSW Public service will:
- use digital ways of conducting business where they were previously prohibited by outdated legislation
- co-design services with customers (taking into consideration expectations around the protection of privacy) and develop technology solutions in partnership with industry
- adopt a digital-by-default starting point when designing or reviewing new and existing policies • partner with industry focussing on technology solutions with a whole of government perspective
- experiment and be innovative in the use of new and game-changing technologies that have the potential to drive better service outcomes
- demonstrate how they are using data to inform decision making, including around investments
- optimise the sharing and use of data through the NSW Data Ecosystem, using real-time data and user-friendly formats for publishing
- use predictive analytics to drive better outcomes across the sector. The NSW Government is committed to exploring and implementing new and innovative ways of doing things, to achieve the best outcomes for the people of NSW.
New Zealand has been recognised internationally throughout the pandemic for efforts in fighting COVID19, and in particular, it has been recognised for its’ impressive leadership from Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
The PM has notably put the health and safety of New Zealand citizens first and foremost. She has communicated transparently and effectively with the people and has built trust and gained their confidence through her actions.
Jacinda Ardern’s leadership style, focused on empathy, isn’t just resonating with her people; it has put the country on track for success against the coronavirus.
The country has a population of around 5 million people, yet New Zealand only recorded 1,219 infections and 22 deaths so far during the pandemic. These are dramatically lower than many other countries that are still grappling with thousands of deaths.
Being Proactive – Taking Precautionary Measures Early in a Pandemic
New Zealand government also took decisive action right away, planning for a possible outbreak began intensively on January 24, 2 days after the WHO reported evidence of human-to-human transmission in Wuhan.
New Zealand’s Ministry of Health established an incident management team and advised the public that while the risk to New Zealand was assessed as low, the Ministry was taking the outbreak very seriously.
New Zealand imposed a national lockdown much earlier in its outbreak than other countries did in theirs, and banned travellers from China in early February, before New Zealand had registered a single case of the virus. It closed its borders to all non-residents in mid-March, when it had only a handful of cases.
Swift Lockdown Action after 102 days without local infection
Just yesterday New Zealand put its largest city back into lockdown after recording four new Covid-19 cases, ending a 102-day streak without a local infection.
A three-day lockdown was swiftly imposed in Auckland after the cases were confirmed. The four new cases are all members of a single family. None had travelled recently.
The restrictions will came into effect on Wednesday, as authorities track and trace contacts of the family. Auckland residents will be asked to stay at home, large gatherings will be banned, non-essential businesses will be shut, and some social-distancing restrictions will be reintroduced in the rest of the country.
The importance of open communication between government and citizen in crisis management
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s response to the pandemic back on March 21 was bold and garnered public support.
That day, Ardern delivered a televised statement to the nation announcing a four-level Covid-19 alert system.
Modelled on fire risk systems already in use in New Zealand, this familiar approach set clear guidelines for how the government would step up its response — and what would be asked of citizens as infection rates grew.
Prime Minister Ardern’s communication has been clear, honest, and compassionate. It has acknowledged the daily sacrifices to come and inspired people to forge ahead bringing them together.
She has spent a lot of time reassuring people during the lockdown with daily briefings and a message that resonates: “Go hard and go early.”
Pandemic demands transformative, collective action from Government and its people
Prime Minister Ardern has established a shared sense of purpose amongst the government and citizens.
Key leadership practices which are leading to New Zealand’s success is the government’s willingness to let themselves be led by expertise, its efforts to mobilise the population, and to enable coping, all of which leads to increased trust in leadership which is needed for transformative, collective action such as the pandemic demands.
According to a press release by the Ministry of Information and Communications, database sharing between management agencies at both central and local levels is key to the process of developing e-government. MIC is compiling an e-government development strategy, which serves as a pillar in Vietnam’s socio-economic development model.
Under the draft strategy, which has been made public for comments, the development of e-government will be associated with the process of digital transformation, smart urban development, and ensuring network safety and security. Accordingly, all operations of state management will be digitalised to lead the national digitalisation process.
Citizens and enterprises will be the centre of the digitalisation process, which will aim at improving transparency, simplifying administrative procedures, and creating convenience when accessing public services. The most important thing was developing a database system and data sharing mechanism between state management agencies, according to the Ministry’s Authority of Information Technology Application.
The strategy aims to link the development of e-government with Vietnamese digital technology enterprises that have core technologies and open platforms to serve digital government services. Notably, enterprises could participate in providing public administrative services.
By 2025, 100% of national databases to serve e-government, including the database about population, land, business registration, finance, and insurance, are hoped to be completed, connected, and shared on a nationwide scale.
A representative from Vietnam Posts and Telecommunications Group said it was important to develop databases and data sharing to launch the digital government services. It was also necessary to carry out reviews on the process of transition from paper-based to digital and develop procedures for digital government services.
According to the United Nations’ recent report themed ‘Digital Government in the Decade of Action for Sustainable Development’, Vietnam ranked 86 out of 193 countries in the e-government development index, moving up two spots from 2018. Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc has approved the list of members of the National Committee on e-government, which came into effect on 30 July. The PM chaired the committee.
The committee is in charge of studying and proposing policies, strategies and mechanisms to create a legal framework for the development of e-government towards a digital government, digital economy and digital society to create favourable conditions for implementing Industry 4.0 in the country.
The Vietnam Internet Network Information Center (VNNIC) recently kicked off a course for the first 34 personnel chosen for a program on training 500 experts on internet protocol version 6 (IPv6). The advanced program, lasting from 2020 to 2025, targets technicians of IT units under ministries and public sectors and aims to support public agencies in completely switching from IPv4 to IPv6 in 2025.
According to research, internet connections using IPv6 are 1.4 times faster than IPv4. Vietnam’s internet has been upgraded to operate well on IPv6, in preparation for the country’ e-government development and national digital transition. As of June, it was ranked 10th globally in IPv6 adoption, with more than 36 million users.
The Ministry of Information and Communications (MIC) recently launched a communications programming platform called Stringee in Hanoi.
The communications platform-related comprehensive technology solution allows businesses to communicate with customers on mobile phone apps or websites without the use of another app such as Zalo, Skype, or Messenger. Businesses also need not invest in building software with communications features.
Stringee is among other Made-in-Vietnam digital platforms selected by the ministry with the aim of promoting comprehensive and wide-ranging digital transformation in terms of economy and society, contributing substantially to realising goals in the National Digital Transformation Program.
According to the Deputy Minister of Information and Communications, Nguyen Thanh Hung, Stringee is the only platform in Vietnam that can provide full infrastructure and features similar to solutions from foreign countries.
The platform currently provides about 2.2 million minutes of calls a day to some 45 million users nationwide. In the context of the problems caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses are accelerating digital transformation efforts in order to cut costs and maintain operations to survive and recover, the Minister noted.
He called on Vietnamese digital businesses to fully tap into opportunities and develop more digital platforms serving comprehensive digital transformation in different fields. The formation of communications platforms in general and Stringee, in particular, is expected to drive Vietnamese businesses to improve the quality of their customer care and competitiveness.
In line with its mission to shift to e-governance, in June, debuted a corporate governance platform, 1Office, at a ceremony in Hanoi.
1Office is one of the Made-in-Vietnam platforms introduced to enterprises in the national digital transformation process. The ministry hoped Vietnamese digital tech companies would grasp opportunities and develop more platforms to fully serve national digital transformation.
The ministry previously introduced other Made-in-Vietnam platforms used for e-government building such as distant training, health check-ups and treatment, postal codes, webinars, and cloud computing.
It also called on its units to popularise digital platforms to create favourable conditions for Vietnamese enterprises to succeed in domestic and global markets.
Last month, MIC developed a national portal, PayGov, designed to promote electronic payments for public services.
As OpenGov reported, PayGov is not a payment service but acts as a platform to connect public service portals and single-window systems with intermediary payment service providers. Once connected with the platform, online public service portals of ministries and local authorities will be provided with a single interface to use all the services of the intermediary payment providers.
At the same time, intermediary payment companies can provide their services to all ministries and local authorities through PayGov.
In addition to public services, PayGov can provide payment services for other utilities such as electricity, water, healthcare, and education, all in one place.
The MIC Deputy Minister explained that PayGov is just the beginning of a process to promote electronic payments for public services. The Vietnamese government is aiming to raise the ratio of public services that can be delivered online to at least 30% by the end of 2020. As of June, the ratio had doubled to 14.6% from the end of last year but remained far behind the target.
The launch of PayGov is anticipated as one of the measures to accelerate the delivery of online public services and meet the above target. The platform is also expected to help Vietnam realise the target of 50% of the population having electronic payment accounts by 2025, and 80% by 2030 as part of the national digital transformation program.
Due to COVID-19, access to the operating theatres in hospitals is restricted, which means medical training must balance practical learning experiences while ensuring the safety of their students.
NUS have released how they are enabling their medical students from the NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine to experience the process of patient safety and immersion in operating theatre procedures through virtual reality (VR).
The students have been able to learn about the entire flow of the peri-operative setting: from dental clearance to anaesthesia evaluation, to the handling of sharps during surgery and the safe conduct of operations in a simulated environment through VR headsets and hand-held controllers.
The system, called PAtient Safety aS Inter-Professional Training (PASS-IT), is a digital gamified environment that allows students to learn about hands-on techniques in the operating theatre.
“PASS-IT’s gamified style lets multiple learners be immersed in situations where they are given the opportunity to participate in what would usually be a highly restricted environment,” said Associate Professor Alfred Kow, a surgeon and Assistant Dean (Education) of NUS Medicine.
“With the COVID-19 situation, students have also been removed from these settings of practical learning due to the risk of exposing them to aerosol-generating procedures. This VR system is a good tool to help the students consolidate their learning despite increased clinical restrictions,” he added.
Operating in the virtual training world
Medical students use VR headsets and hand-held controllers to interact with each other in real-time. Their physical movements and actions are also tracked and displayed in real-time for visualisation and evaluation.
The tool allows students “to make mistakes, learn in a safe environment and ensure that they are competent before they enter actual clinical environment to care for patients”, according to Assoc Prof Kow.
The PASS-IT programme was piloted with a cohort of 36 third-year medical students who had just completed their clinical rotations in surgery, as well as 56 fourth-year medical students during their Phase IV Anaesthesia posting.
Students showed improved understanding of peri-operative patient safety after the training. Results also showed that the VR training had elevated the students’ appreciation for effective communication between healthcare workers, and the majority of students also spoke positively of the use of VR technology to enhance their knowledge of patient safety.
Assistant Professor Terry Pan from the Department of Anaesthesia at NUS Medicine said the introduction of the PASS-IT VR system has been timely as it gave the students “a unique opportunity to continue the operating theatre learning experience virtually in a safe and structured manner”.
“This innovative VR tool can certainly complement the operating theatre learning experience when the current restrictions are lifted,” he added.