Various contact-tracing apps, helplines turned defunct

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The suspension of mobile phones and 2G internet service by the authorities across Kashmir on Wednesday has left people fuming for whom it was the only mode of communication and information amid the lockdown owing to Covid19. Several internet and telecom subscribers told the Greater Kashmir that suspension of both calling and data services on mobile phones is a “major handicap” during the outbreak of Covid19.

While services of all mobile networks, except government-owned BSNL were suspended on Wednesday after two encounters broke out in south Kashmir, only limited service of BSNL Broadband was operational.

Students using the 2G services for online classes said the communication blockade had hit them badly. “Without internet I have lost touch with my classmates and teachers. What is the purpose of promoting online education and e-learning when we have frequent internet shutdowns,” said Shahid, a student.

At a time when Information Technology (IT) is being using as a major tool in the fight against Covid-19, suspension of mobile and 2G internet is a major set-back.

“I had downloaded the contact tracing mobile app Aarogya Setu which was of great help. But now sudden suspension of 2G internet has rendered this app dysfunctional,” said Majid Ahmad. The Aarogya Setu app which has been introduced by the Government of India has witnessed more than 7 lakh downloads in Jammu and Kashmir with almost 2 lakh users in the Valley.

The suspension of mobile internet is also a major hurdle for access of Covid-19 related data and maps. An Information Technology professional said the Geographic Information System (GIS) based maps available on various government websites are of no use amid 2G internet shutdown. “People used to follow these maps regularly to know about Covid-19 hotspots and Red Zones. What is the use of investing in technology so much when we have such frequent internet shutdowns,” the IT professional said.

Another major drawback of the 2G internet shutdown is the immediate impact on door-to-door health audit being conducted by the government across Jammu and Kashmir. Officials said the ground level workers conducting the survey using a mobile app “Swasthya Nidhi” to collect data will be unable to do so in absence of internet service.

“The health audit has been going smoothly so far and almost 4-5 lakh households have been covered. A population of 25-30 lakh persons have been screened under the survey but success of this survey is based on uninterrupted internet service,” said an official in-charge of the survey.

Besides, internet is also vital in the fight against Covid-19 as government-run mobile apps for contact tracing such as “Talaash” are defunct without internet. In presence of internet service, more than 300 persons in Srinagar had self-reported their travel history with the help of this app so far.

The mobile communication gag is also a bad news for those who are in distress and trying to reach out for help. “We were happy that district administration in Srinagar had launched a 20 operator call centre but what is the fun of such helplines when mobile service is blocked,” said Muhammad Ashraf. Officials say the call centre used to receive 1500-2000 calls every day from people in need or enquiring about health services and other Covid-19 related aspects. Similarly helplines set up by Srinagar Police, health department etc. have also been receiving a good response from people.

The suspension of mobile and 2G services will also impact local e-commerce start-ups who amid the lockdown had started home delivery of essentials including fruits and groceries. Entrepreneur Shah Ubair who runs a start-up “efruit mandi” says the communication gag is a dampener for their business of home delivery of apples. “We had catered to the needs of a lot of customers but with this communication gag our work has stopped. There are several orders which need to be processed but without mobile communication and internet we are unable to do that,” said Ubair.

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