From deploying drones to monitor the movement of people in congested areas to launching dedicated fact-checking websites to tackle fake news and misinformation campaigns, the states of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh are using myriad technology tools in their fight to check the spread of coronavirus.
The Telangana police department is using drone technology to identify people who are violating lockdown restrictions and moving freely, posing a threat of infection to others.
In several districts, the police have been using drones which make rounds over the towns, capturing pictures of those who flood the streets despite the lockdown.
The drone technology, developed by Hyderabad-based engineering and technology solutions company Cyient, is helping the police make lockdown-related announcements and organise their ground forces to monitor the situation in congested areas.
Equipped with surveillance cameras, thermal imaging payloads and sky speaker for public announcements, Cyient’s drone-based aerial inspection capability is augmenting the police’s ability to combat the spread of the pandemic, a senior police officer said.
The neighbouring AP has also deployed similar technology to monitor the implementation of the lockdown.
It is not the first time that the state police is using drones. In the past, the police in Karimnagar town had used a similar technology to track drunkards, eve teasers, and sexual offenders. They also used drones to track the illegal smuggling of sand.
Now, the same technology is being used to monitor the movement of people in the town during the lockdown.
“Though the lockdown is being implemented strictly in the town, there are some instances where some youths are freely moving in some areas despite repeated appeals to stay indoors. They will be caught and counselled,” the police official said.
Karimnagar was in the news recently when a group of ten Tablighi preachers from Indonesia, who stayed in the town for a couple of days, had tested positive for coronavirus.
A local youth, who hosted the visiting preachers, and his family members including his mother and sisters also tested positive for COVID-19. Alerted by the incident, the district administration cordoned off Mukarampura area in the town where the Indonesians had stayed.
In Kamareddy, in the neighbouring Nizamabad district, the municipal staff are also using drones to spray sodium hypochlorite liquid as part of sanitation measures.
The drone-based surveillance is assisting the ground forces to monitor sensitive areas in Hyderabad as well. “The visuals from the drones are helping us to take correct decisions on moving forces to sensitive areas,” the police said.
The Telangana government has also launched a website, https://factcheck.telangana.gov.in, as part of its efforts to check the spread of fake news, misinformation, and rumours about the coronavirus spread and the consequent lockdown.
The government has also invoked the provisions of Section 54 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005 and notified Telangana Epidemic Diseases (COVID-19) Regulations, 2020, framed under the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897.
Disseminating information on social media platforms without ascertaining the facts and obtaining prior clearance from competent authorities is deemed a punishable offence under the Act and Regulations.
The Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao has warned that stringent action would be taken against anyone spreading fake news.
“There is a need to create public awareness about the damage that fake news and misinformation can cause. At the same time, authentic sources of information must be provided. This platform verifies the information for authenticity,” the state Information Technology secretary Jayesh Ranjan said.
The government’s initiative comes in the backdrop of the Supreme Court directing the Centre and state governments to take effective measures to check misinformation. The apex court was referring to the panic created by fake news leading to mass movement of migrant labourers soon after the announcement of the nationwide lockdown.
“The website is aimed at dispelling fake news and misinformation campaigns on social media platforms and provide facts and context wherever applicable,” the IT secretary said.
It hosts articles on widely-circulated posts on coronavirus on social media platforms and verifies the claims made in those posts. Further, citizens can also submit a post being circulated on social media for fact-checking by the IT Department.
The state IT and communications department will release a bulletin at regular intervals with a list of posts spreading fake news, misinformation, and rumours and provide facts.
The Telangana government has also deployed an automated ‘COVID-19 Monitoring System App’ to identify, undertake live surveillance, track, monitor, and provide real-time analytics.
The mobile app, devised by Vera Smart Healthcare, is helping officials and even the Chief Minister’s Office to keep track of the situation on a real time basis.
It enables live surveillance, monitoring, tracking, reporting, and major bulletins.
The system empowers each health-caller to handle over 1,500 calls, do simple chatbot interaction every day with patients in home quarantine and ask them to follow the prescribed treatment and maintain social distancing.
This user-friendly app was developed by the US and Hyderabad-based, early stage start-up Vera Smart Healthcare, which had earlier helped Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, and Tamil Nadu create detailed health profiles for more than 50,000 people across these states.
“The system has helped us track and monitor the foreign returnees; community spread and those who are already hospitalised for severe acute respiratory infection (SARS) very early to control the spread of Covid-19 disease,” said G Srinivas Rao, Director of Public Health Service.
“Our technology is based on technologies like Internet of Things (IoT), GPS and Geotag via a super lite centralised App, which is installed in the phones of all associates from the ground level till the Chief Minister’s Office,” said Dharma Teja Nukarapu, Founder and CEO of Vera Healthcare.
Among the vital features of the app is Geotagging and GPS tracking of home quarantined persons to ensure that they follow quarantine guidelines.