It was well past midnight on Thursday when an alarm went off at the control room of the South District administration and display monitors threw up a red notification. A person, advised home quarantine, had just stepped out of his home in violation of norms. By then, the person had been alerted of the violation through an app on his phone installed by the administration. But he chose to disregard the alarm, and spent 30 minutes outside. In less than 24 hours, police had been asked to lodge an FIR against him.
The tech intervention, devised by the South Delhi district administration, is likely to be adopted across districts in the capital to check home-quarantine violations and contain the spread of COVID-19.
On Thursday, the district also started using another app for door-to-door surveys of households in containment zones. During this, volunteers feed central servers with real-time data on persons with fever or cough; information on their travel history abroad; contact with confirmed positive cases; and any possible link with the Tablighi Jamaat gathering at Nizamuddin Markaz.
While the app to check quarantine violations has been developed and made available free of cost to district authorities by a Bengaluru-based firm, the containment zone survey app has been developed in-house, said District Magistrate (South) B M Mishra.
He added that if there is an apprehension that a person has stepped out after leaving the phone at home, they are called and asked to send a selfie. The app sends alerts when a person crosses a 50-100 metres radius from his place of residence.
Lawyer Apar Gupta, co-founder of the Internet Freedom Foundation, said the Delhi government must make it clear under which legal framework such tech interventions are covered.
On the quarantine app, Gupta said: “To my knowledge, even the broad powers under the Epidemic Diseases Act — which are available to the Delhi government and have been used by it to make rules — do not authorise such an application. Without being situated within a legal framework, there will be threats to privacy; even arbitrary action can result from it. Second, such an app by itself is placing a restriction without a clear legal consequence. What if the health condition of a person deteriorates and needs to be shifted to a hospital? Hence, all such app developments need to be done with a level of legality that displays foresight rather than acting in haste and panic.”
Mishra said the administration is taking care of the legal aspects as well.
Meanwhile, Chief Secretary Vijay Dev said, “I have ordered it (the apps) to be upscaled for all districts to use.”
Mishra said that so far, the app has been installed on phones of around 20 persons, while the rest will be brought under the surveillance net soon. He has ordered lodging of two FIRs based on violations caught by the app so far. The Delhi government has also handed numbers of over 27,000 people, advised home quarantine, to police to check violations by tracking their phones.
The app on household surveys is also proving useful for the administration, as a heat map on the number of persons down with ailments such as fever and cough is being created in real-time.
“The map will also have details of those who came in touch with COVID-19 patients or Markaz members. This way, we can intervene quickly and send medical teams wherever required for sampling purposes, or ambulances if hospitalisation is required. The survey is being done by teams of civil defence volunteers, ASHA workers, ANMs, malaria inspectors, among others. Previously, it was being done manually. But the compilation and analysis of data was taking time, hindering quick decision-making,” he added.
There are two containment zones in the South district — a lane in Hauz Rani and one in Sangam Vihar, housing a population of around 2,000 people. Sealing will remain in force for about 14 days, officials said.
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