DILG official defends StaySafe contact tracing app

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 26) — After Health Secretary Francisco Duque criticized the limited impact of the government's contact tracing app, an official issued a defense on Thursday that StaySafe has been effective in cutting the spread of the coronavirus.

Interior Undersecretary Epimaco Densing said 115 people were prohibited from entering establishments in July alone after their StaySafe apps showed they're positive for COVID-19.

"Meron hong 115 na ating kababayan na ayon sa CDRs (COVID-19 data repository system) ng Department of Health ay kumpirmado pong COVID-19 positive na sumubok pumasok sa mga establishimyento. At dahil nagwork ang ating StaySafe, hindi po sila pinapasok sa establishments," he said in a media briefing.

"Ito ay isang pamamaraan para pigilan ang potensyal na pagkalat ng COVID-19," he added.

[Translation: We have 115 Filipinos who were confirmed to be positive for COVID-19 but tried to enter establishments. They were not able to enter because StaySafe worked. This is one tool to stop the spread of COVID-19.]

The government's official contact tracing app is required in all establishments. Customers need to scan the QR code before entering stores. Its main purpose is to inform users if they have been exposed to someone who's infected.

Densing said Duque was possibly not updated on how many people are accessing the app when he said it is "very limited" and has "almost no impact" on Wednesday.

Densing added that the DILG's information technology group has been asked to alert its personnel if a patient is trying to go out in public so they can get in touch with concerned local government units.

The DILG, which is in charge of contact tracing efforts, said over 6.4 million individuals are registered with the StaySafe app.

Meanwhile, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque expressed concern over the DOH chief’s remarks.

“We will ask the DICT to explain kung bakit ganyan ang naging conclusion ni Secretary Duque [why Secretary Duque’s conclusion was like that]. In any event, that’s a cause for concern for the (presidential) palace because alam natin importanteng-importante ang automation para sa [automation is very important for] contact tracing,” Roque said.

Speaking to CNN Philippines, Contact Tracing czar Benjamin Magalong said the StaySafe app "still helps," especially its digital logbook feature.

However, he noted that the challenge is in terms of integrating the digital and manual logs since not all establishments use the app or any other system for contact tracing. This is why they encourage LGUs to develop their own platforms, or make use of the StaySafe app if they do not have any.

Magalong said they are also currently finalizing the TanodKontraCOVID (TKC), which will serve as a central platform where all contact tracing apps - including StaySafe - will be integrated. This will be the only source of national and local authorities for information for their contact tracing efforts, he added.

The system has been tested in Quezon City and now in some areas in Baguio City for the past three weeks, he said.

Magalong added that they are also hoping the joint administrative order for the TKC will be signed in the next two weeks by the DILG, DICT (Department of Information and Communications Technology), DOH, and NPC (National Privacy Commission) in order to implement the platform.