Director of the Public Health Department at the Ministry of Public Health, Sheikh Dr. Mohammed bin Hamad Al Thani has reiterated that Ehteraz app, which must be installed in mobile phones from today, seeks to protect the community from coronavirus (COVID-19) infections and strengthen preventive measures to limit the spread of the virus in the State of Qatar. Speaking to QNA, the Director of the Public Health Department said the app seeks such goal by alerting people who have come in contact with a person who has been infected (based on standards determined by specialists in the Ministry of Public Health).
When someone is diagnosed with COVID-19, every person with the Ehteraz app that they have recently been in contact with receive an alert to go to the health center to be checked. He added that the app also provides the latest, official updates and statistics issued by the Ministry of Public Health around COVID-19 in a simple, concise way. It also has a feature to notify users of the latest awareness and precautionary instructions issued by the official authorities in the country, he pointed out.
The Director of the Public Health added that the app installation steps are easy as Ehteraz is available for smartphones and can be downloaded from the Apple Store and Google Play. Once installed, he said, there are several steps that have to be completed to activate the app. These include reading and agreeing to the Terms and Conditions of the app and providing the required information (mobile number, ID number, ID expiry date). Then, a text message is sent to the users mobile number which includes a verification PIN that has to be entered in the dedicated field on the app, with which the final phase of user registration on Ehteraz is completed.
After the app has been fully installed, a page containing the current health code of the user appears, through which they can know their health status through different colours, he said. The green colour means that the user does not have COVID-19. The grey colour means that the user has either come in contact with a person who has the virus or has been tested and is awaiting test results. The yellow colour is for individuals currently under quarantine, and the red colour means that the user has COVID-19.
The app also has a page that contains the latest statistics from the Ministry of Public Health around COVID-19 in the State of Qatar. It also has another page containing contact numbers in case of any health or technical inquiries. Regarding how the app can help to trace those isolating at home or under quarantine, he said that when individuals under quarantine, be it at home, a hotel, or in quarantine facilities, leave the quarantine without the knowledge of relevant authorities, the user receives an alert through the app and is contacted by the Ministry of Public Health to inquire about reasons of leaving quarantine and then the necessary steps are taken. On the confidentiality of the data in the app, the Director of the Public Health Department said: "We confirm that all user data on Ehteraz app is completely confidential and is only accessible to relevant, specialised teams when necessary."
He added: "Permission to access photos and files may appear automatically on some Android phones. It's a common permission on Android phones for an app that needs access to certain phone files." He pointed out that Ehteraz needs this access to ensure the user's data remains completely confidential and not tampered with or otherwise compromised. This data also provides an important, temporary, redundancy in the event of connectivity interruption by providing location data gathered during the interruption to ensure users are provided with the correct status and information, he said.
Regarding the Bluetooth feature, Sheikh Dr. Mohammed bin Hamad Al Thani said through location services, it is possible to determine the location of the user when contacting an infected person, and to know whether this location is a public place such as food stores or any other public location to limit the spread of the virus. Also, the Bluetooth feature allows the app to accurately determine the distance between users' phones and identify whether the contact has been within the safe, two-meter distance or more.
Through turning on these two features, relevant authorities have access to the needed, accurate information to trace transmission in a better way. The Director of the Public Health said that data provided to the app is only used by relevant authorities for medical and health reasons and is not captured or used for any other purposes. The app, he said, operates under the strictest privacy and data retention policies, to ensure that any data shared is correctly used.
It is important that the app is always running in order to accurately record interactions with other users and correctly alert you if you have come in contact with an infected person. It can urge you to maintain social distancing and can provide vital information that will let you know when you should get tested or enter quarantine, he pointed out.