Interview questions from a researcher in Ho Chi Minh City

1. Currently, as the number of confirmed cases has decreased since the outbreak in May, the COVID-19 alert has been able to be lowered to Level 2. How do you think the development of the QR Code contact tracing system has supported Taiwan in the containment of the virus?

When Taiwan was hit by a wave of infections in May this year, the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) issued a nationwide level 3 COVID-19 alert, requiring contact information to be supplied when entering and leaving public venues to facilitate accurate contact tracing and notifications should that be needed.

When a confirmed case is found, their close contacts can be found accurately and swiftly. However, the long queues for registration with paper-and-pencil at each shop can be both time-consuming counterproductive in terms of virus prevention measures as the wait increases exposure time in public.

Thus, the government rolled out the “1922 SMS” check-in system.

2. How many confirmed cases have been found out by the QR Code contact tracing system until now?

The discovery of confirmed cases usually combined a variety of methods. In addition to using this system to find close contacts of confirmed cases, it also includes community screening, interviewing to confirmed cases, reporting from primary medical institutions, et cetera. Thus, there are no exact statistics can show how many confirmed cases have been found by the system.

However, since the launch of the system, various local health agencies have requested for information for 23072 times (containing 881027 records of location code/mobile number), showing that the information of this system has been widely and frequently used in pandemic prevention and detection.

3. How do the QR Code contact tracing system support disease surveillance and case detection?

While “1922 SMS” was never mandated by the central governmentas the sole way to check-in, it soon became part of people’s lives. Users simply scan a QR code using the built-in smartphone camera and send the text message to 1922; no apps required. Data is stored with the telecom company providing the user’s phone service, and the information is deleted after 28 days.

Taiwan Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is the only authority that can access the information. When a confirmed case is found, by request from the local health agency, CDC can provide information that other persons’ information appeared in the same places as the confirmed case. Combining with contact tracing interviews, it can accurately find the possible close contacts and then screen or quarantine them.

4. How have the past experiences in previous pandemics helped in the development of this system?

In the g0v community, architects of existing contact tracing systems actively discussed how to optimize the current check-in systems, which were mostly using papers or self-made web forms.

Three days before the Level 3 alert, “SMS Contact Tracing” emerged as one of the most popular proposals, with contributions from the eMask rationing teams from a year ago.

Through these people-public-private partnerships, we learned from the experience of similar systems across the world.