Effective pandemic response necessitates the collection of vast quantities of personally identifiable information. As part of disease surveillance, responders need to be able to identify those who have contracted the disease, trace contacts who may have been exposed, and find out where clusters may be emerging. They also need to be able to ask those who may have been exposed to quarantine, and likely follow up to check if the quarantine is being observed, as well as if those under quarantine have developed symptoms. Information collection for contact tracing and quarantine monitoring can be undertaken in a variety of ways, including testing, case reporting, and interviewing infected persons to find out their travel history and whom they may have recently come into contact with, and then following up with those contacts. However, advances in digital technologies have given rise to newer methods. The COVID-19 pandemic has seen a proliferation of contact tracing applications around the world. Similarly, other forms of data can be harnessed, such as location and GPS data, as well as the use of call records to identify close contacts and monitor quarantines.
However, there are numerous challenges in information collection during a pandemic. Especially in a novel pandemic, as knowledge about the nature of the disease and how it spreads is still emerging, responders have to come up with response procedures quickly and often learn on the job. One of the challenges of dealing with infectious diseases, including COVID-19, is combatting the stigma associated with having contracted the disease. While it is necessary for health officials to be aware of who is infected and exposed, the social stigma associated with the disease can incentivise the unwell to hide their symptoms, posing a challenge for health officials. The use of digital technologies has also given rise to concerns about cybersecurity and the protection of personally identifiable information.
In this research report, we present our study of information collection methods that were deployed in Sri Lanka and Thailand in the year 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. We map out methods, procedures, and technologies that were used, explore lessons learned, and propose policy recommendations for future pandemics.
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