Aarogya Setu fades into background as India deals with second Covid-19 wave
Aarogya Setu, the government’s contact tracing app touted as the first line of defence against Covid-19 last year, has faded into the background as the second wave of the pandemic has overwhelmed the country.
Nearly 100 million people began using the app within a month and a half of its launch last year. The app had over 150 million users by the end of September last year, the government told Parliament.
An official said the application now has 170 million users and people now use it to register more for Covid-19 jabs as it is linked to the Co-WIN platform for vaccine registrations. “The application can only act if data is fed to it. Labs are testing, but not updating the mobile numbers on Aarogya Setu. So, the app has limited function in terms of helping identify emerging hotspots,” the official said on condition of anonymity. The official added that the application was still sending early warnings on prevention of transmission of the virus and was colour coding people on the basis of the perceived threat level.
A person involved with the development of Aarogya Setu said the application had the potential to be leveraged to combat the second wave. “The technology is there but the government dropped the ball.”
Independent researcher Srinivas Kodali said Aarogya Setu can only function as long as data is being provided to it. “Last year, ICMR [Indian Council of Medical Research] was passing on the data that help in the targeted intervention using the application,” said Kodali. “The government promoted it in a fashion that if one has the application, they will not get Covid. ...there are so many people who do not have smartphones... The important issue that should have been highlighted is testing.” Kodali said it is important to look at what happened with Aarogya Setu as the government begins promoting Co-WIN.
Anivar Aravind, a software engineer who petitioned against the mandatory use of the application in the Karnataka high court, said contact tracing apps have proven to be ineffective. “There is no data on how effective these apps have been,” he said. “In Iceland, it did not help; in Singapore also, it is evaluated. In 2021, the question we need to ask is why do contact tracing apps still exist.”
Aravind added that Aarogya Setu was an experiment that failed. “This was nothing but technology theatre. Aarogya Setu was a distraction and now we have Co-WIN. I presume that the app will likely make a reappearance as an immunity passport as we go along.”