(June 18, 2020) Health authorities in Oman and Saudi Arabia have recently begun using new mobile apps to trace COVID-19 patients. Additionally, the Kuwaiti Ministry of Health has launched a mobile app to monitor individuals in quarantine.
On June 14, 2020, Saudi news media reported that the Saudi Data and Artificial Intelligence Authority (SDAIA) was launching a mobile app called “Tabaud” (Distancing) to combat the spread of COVID-19 in the kingdom. The main function of the app is to notify users if they have come in close contact with someone who is infected with COVID-19.
Once the app is downloaded to a smart phone, it can detect, via Bluetooth technology, other nearby smart phones that are also using the same application. When Tabaud app users report that they are infected with the coronavirus virus, other Tabaud app users who were in close proximity to them during the 14-day period before the infection are notified to take necessary precautions.
According to the SDAIA, the Tabaud app does not infringe on the privacy of users by collecting their identities or people’s contact information from their mobile phones’ contact lists. Nor does the app collect any data related to the geographical coordinates of users. Any data collected by the Tabaud app is processed for no other purpose than combating the pandemic.
On April 18, 2020, news media in Kuwait reported that the Kuwait Ministry of Health was launching a mobile app called “Shlonik” (How are you? in the Kuwaiti dialect) to monitor individuals who are in mandatory home quarantine. According to Mona Al-Khabaz, the director of the Health Ministry’s team in charge of digital monitoring of the quarantined individuals, the Shlonik app is linked with a smart barcoded bracelet that is hooked to the persons in mandatory quarantine. The bracelet tracks their movements and notifies the Ministry of Health if they breach their quarantine.
All persons entering the country from abroad are given the bracelets at the airport and must undergo a quarantine period of 14 days to ensure that they are not infected with the virus. The monitoring center designated to follow up the movement of those individuals consists of more than 100 doctors trained in using the Shlonik app.
The Shlonik app not only monitors individuals in mandatory quarantine but also detects people who have come in contact with those who have tested positive for COVID-19. It also allows individuals who are in home quarantine to speak to a doctor to check on their health. The Kuwaiti health authorities have obligated more than 30,000 people who have returned to the country to download the Shlonik app.
Individuals breaching their house quarantine are transferred to government facilities to continue their quarantine period and may be subject to a fine of 5,000 Kuwaiti dinars about (US$15,000) or three months’ imprisonment or both.
On April 6, 2020, the Ministry of Health in the Sultanate of Oman announced the launch of a mobile app called “Tarassud” (Monitoring) to track COVID-19 infection rates and monitor infected individuals in quarantine. The app also publishes Oman’s recovery statistics and the Ministry’s data and decisions related to COVID-19.
According to the Ministry’s director general of information technology, as of April 29, 2020, the Tarassud app had been downloaded 55,000 times and the Sultanate’s health authorities share the information about the infected person that is collected by the app.
In addition to Tarassud, Omani news media reported on April 20, 2020, that the Ministry had launched the “Tarassud Plus” app. The Tarassud Plus app enhances the Ministry’s capabilities of monitoring infected persons who are under quarantine by using artificial intelligence technology and an advanced tracking system. The app is used with a hand bracelet to determine the location of infected persons through their mobile phones or any other mobile devices. It sends alerts if the infected person leaves the quarantine location or tries to take off the bracelet. The app notifies its users if an infected person has come close to them and allows health authorities to identify quarantined persons through face detection technology if they breach their quarantine.