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ICTA to introduce high-tech contact tracing for pandemic control – Chairman de Silva

close up on Phone with app in caucasian hands

ECONOMYNEXT-Sri Lanka’s Information and Communication Technology Agency (ICTA) will launch the new Stay Safe Digital Project on Monday, November 9, to make contact tracing for pandemic control more efficient using technology.

Speaking in an interview with TV Derana, ICTA Chairman Jayantha De Silva said that once the curfew is lifted on Monday, Stay Safe will allow the authorities to identify the contacts of future COVID cases easily which will save their time and the time of the general public.

He also said that the ICTA along with the developers have worked on the project for the past 6 months to use technology to control and prevent COVID-19 in Sri Lanka.

“Since it would not be successful if we used this technology only through smartphones as only about 50% of the population uses smartphones, this project idea was introduced to us by four young people who created the Stay Safe Digital Project,” he added.

Also speaking in the interview Shanaka Perera who is a member of the project told that they looked at the all technologies used by other countries to control and prevent COVID-19 and the idea of endorsing QR method came after looking at New Zealand but depending on the smartphone penetration in the country it could not be directly implemented in Sri Lanka.

Accordingly, he said that the all businesses and organisations have to register with Stay Safe through the website upon the registration the business or organisation will receive a poster with unique QR code and a Location code which should be displayed at the entrance of a business or the organisation.

People who are entering the business or organisation should scan the QR code by just opening the camera of the Smartphone or non-Smartphone users should SMS the Location code mentioned in the poster to 1919.

In the first instance, the individual who is using Stay Safe should scan the QR code and then enter the details such as the name, National ID number and a mobile number through a notification that will appear which will register him to the system.

Then onwards he/she will have to simply scan the QR code and show the notification containing his information to the security officer of the business or organisation before entering.

The notification which will give the details of the particular individual after the scan or after the SMS is sent will show whether he can enter the premises, whether he is a COVID patient or contact of an infected person.

After registering with the system it will also send an SMS to that particular individual whether he is a contact of future COVID cases.

Once a COVID patient is identified who is registered with the system, just by entering his National ID number to the system the Health authorities can find out the places he had visited in the past 14 days in order to identify his contacts rather than going through logbooks in businesses and organisations based on the statements given by the patient.

Further, regarding the privacy issue, he said that since all the data will be collected at the Lanka Government Cloud which is managed by the ICTA, the data is stored within the country and the notification which a particular individual receives once he/she scans the QR code or SMS the location code will display only the last four digits of his/her mobile number

“So the privacy of every individual is protected by this project,” he added. (Colombo, November 5, 2020)

Reported by Imesh Ranasinghe

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Sri Lankans may need to wait for Monetary Board meeting minutes despite new Act

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lankans may have to wait more time to read the meeting minutes of the Central Bank’s Monetary Board, a top official said, despite a new act that has made the central bank to be more transparent and accountable for its decisions.

Many central banks including the United States’ Federal Reserve, India’s Reserve Bank, and Bank of Mexico release the minutes of their monetary policy meeting to ensure transparency.

The new Central Bank Act passed by the Parliament in line with the guidance by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) includes measures for Sri Lanka’s central bank to be more transparent and accountable.

These measures include releasing the Monetary Policy Report every six months and the first such report was released on February 15.

However, the central bank has not taken a decision to release the minutes of the Monetary Board meetings on the monetary policy.

“Going forward, one day this could happen,” Chandranath Amarasekara, Assistant Governor at the Central Bank told reporters on Wednesday (21) at a media briefing.

“Right now, we have just started working on the new Central Bank Act. We are not there yet. There is no such decision on releasing minutes yet.”

The central bank in the past printed billions of rupees to keep the market interest rates artificially low and provide cheap funding for successive governments to propel a debt-driven economy.

It’s decision, however, led Sri Lanka into an unprecedented economic crisis in 2022 with sovereign debt default.

It also propped up the rupee currency artificially in the past to maintain a stable exchange rate at the expense of billions of US dollars. The move also contributed for the economic crisis and later the central bank was forced to allow over 60 percent depreciation in the rupee in March 2022.

However, none of the top central bank officials was held responsible for wrong decisions to hold interest rates artificially low with money printing and propping up the rupee. (Colombo/Feb 23/2024)

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Amid mass migration, Sri Lanka to recruit volunteers as English teachers

ECONOMYNEXT- Sri Lanka is planning to appoint foreign and expatriate volunteers to teach English for Sri Lanka students, the Ministry of Higher Education said, amid thousand of teachers migrating to other countries after the island nation’s unprecedented economic crisis.

Over five thousand teachers have left the country with the Education Ministry permission using the government’s circular of temporarily leaving state jobs while tens of thousands of teachers have left the country without informing the relevant authorities, Education Ministry officials say.

That had led to an acute teacher shortage in the country.

Suren Raghavan, the State Minister for Higher Education said the shortage has aggravated because most of the graduates who have an English degree become writers and join the private sector due to higher salary.

“They do not join government schools. This is a problem all over the country which is why we need to have an online system,” Raghavan told EconomyNext.

Separately he said on Thursday at a press conference that he had spoken to Canadian and Australian High Commissions to get the assistance of where their English teachers who have experience in teaching English as a second language in South Asia.

He also said that there is a number of teachers in the Unite Kingdom have shown interest in teaching English and they have experience in teaching in other Asian countries such as Burma and India while the teaching would be done free of charge.

The new move also comes at a time when the country’s English literacy rate is on the decline, according to the Minister.

President Ranil Wickramasinghe announced the English-for-all initiative three months ago with plans to improve English literacy at school and university level. (Colombo/Feb 23/2024)

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Sri Lanka tea production up 1.4-pct in Jan 2024, exports up 6.8-pct

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s tea production was up 1.4 percent to 18.73 million kilograms in January 2024, with high growns falling and low and mid growns rising, industry data shows.

High grown tea in January 2024 was 3.56 million kilograms, down from 3.36 million, medium growns were 2.6, up from 2.5 million kilograms and low growns were 12.56 million, up from 12.32 million kilograms last year.

Exports, including re-exports were up 6.88 percent to 18.76 million kilograms, industry data published by Ceylon Tea Brokers show.

Export earnings were reported at 102 million US dollars, up from 99.5 million dollars last year. The average FOB price was 5.45 US dollars a kilo down from 5.67 dollars last year.

Tea in bulk was 8.5 million kilograms valued at 12.79 billion rupees, tea in packets was 7.8 million kilograms valued at 13.1 billion rupees and tea in bags was 1.8 million kilos, valued at 5.06 billion rupees.

The top buyer was Iraq with 2.5 million kilos, up from 2.1 million last year followed by the UAE with 1.99 kilos, up from 1.86 million last year.

Russia bought 1.98 million kilos, down from 2.0 last year, Turkey bought 1.72 million kilos, from 2.3 million last year, while Iran bought 1.32 million, up from 614 million last year. (Colombo/Feb23/2024)

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