By Aashish Mishra
Kathmandu, Apr. 17: Nepal’s telecommunication sector deserves credit for being one of the key links between the government and the public during the coronavirus outbreak.
It was one of the first sectors to jump into action at the start of the crisis, with various telecom companies using text messages and Outbound Dialling (OBD) calls to disseminate accurate and verified messages about COVID-19 to the public.
The three major telecom operators -- Nepal Telecom (NTC), Ncell and SmartCell -- also replaced their regular Caller Ring Back Tone (CRBT) with corona-related special messages so that the people learn about the disease and the necessary precautions to take every time they make a call.
They have played a huge role in carrying valid information from the government to the public. But as part of the overall campaign, they have lately reversed the gears and are now carrying information from the public to the government through a special COVID-19 survey.
The survey was launched by the two leading telecommunication service providers of Nepal - NTC and Ncell - on Tuesday and Wednesday respectively under an initiative of the federal government’s high level committee for the prevention and control of COVID-19.
Through the survey, the companies ask their SIM holders to answer five questions about their health status and their contact with any foreign returnees.
“This way, we aggregate data about people’s symptoms and whether they themselves have arrived from or have come in contact with anyone arriving from foreign destinations and pass this on to the government,” said Rajesh Joshi, spokesperson for NTC.
Ncell believes that this survey would go a long way in helping the government flag certain areas and groups for their vulnerability to the virus outbreak. Telecom companies have a large subscriber base and their responses to the questions can help identify which areas need more vigilance and where the government should intensify its efforts, the company said.
However, Joshi is keen to stress that the mobile service providers are just the channels carrying the data from the public to the government. “We are merely data collectors,” he said. “The analysis and management will be done by the government and it will also be the one to follow-up on any symptomatic cases or red flags.”
But a survey is only good if people participate in it and they can participate only if they know about it. So, Ncell is sending out text messages to all its subscribers, asking them to dial the specified number and answer the given queries. People are sharing NTC’s stated number on Facebook and asking their friends to take part in the survey. The popular Nepali social media page Routine of Nepal Banda has also posted about the survey on its social media platforms, making sure that the message reaches the widest possible audience.
The reaction from the people also is largely positive. Muskan Upadhyaya and Aabhash Shrestha are NTC and Ncell subscribers respectively and they laud the survey as a positive step taken by the government and their service providers to track and control virus spread in the country.
“I filled the survey as soon as I got the SMS from Ncell,” said Shrestha. Upadhyaya also shared, “I filled the survey and then asked my parents and grandparents to fill it too. I also shared it on Facebook.”
The public participation has been encouraging, as shown by NTC’s response figures. A total of 87,207 people filled the survey question on the day it was launched i.e. Tuesday and 590,345 people filled it on Wednesday. This number looks set to rise considerably in the coming days. Ncell is also witnessing substantial public participation and will be realising its response statistics in a few days.
NTC subscribers can take part in the survey by dialling *1419# and Ncell subscribers can do so by dialling *17100#.