CHENNAI: The Chengalpattu district administration, on its Facebook page on Wednesday, posted a map of COVID-19 patients there. While the initiative has been welcomed, it was found that the map also gave away the phone numbers of patients and, in some cases, their source of infection including from the Delhi conference.
The customised Google map has details of patients up to May 19 when it was created and was published on the district administration’s Facebook page on Wednesday. After The New Indian Express spoke to the district administration, the Facebook post has since been taken down but the Google map carrying the patients' personal details continues to remain accessible to those who have saved the link.
When you click on a pin, the patient’s gender, address and phone number are revealed, among other details.
When contacted, a 29-year-old vegetable vendor who is suspected to have contracted the virus from Koyambedu, said that he was not contacted for permission before his phone number was uploaded.
“I was not aware of this. But they should take the personal details down. We are already being stigmatised by neighbours,” he said.
In another problematic move, in the case of the Tablighi Jamaat attendees and their contacts, the map, along with the patients’ phone numbers and addresses, mentions that they belong to the Jamaat cluster. In the case of a 30-year-old man from Asthinapuram, for instance, the map says ‘Contact of positive Delhi Tabliq Conference’.
“It has been 20 days since we were discharged from the hospital. After listening to demeaning comments made even by people we know, it was only now that things were settling down for us. Now the government itself is giving a chance for us to be attacked again,” he said.
“What I would like to know is who is this going to benefit? What are people going to get from knowing where we got the virus from? That too now that we have recovered and are healthy,” he added.
The Centre’s ‘Arogya Setu’ app, for instance, uses geotagging to inform users of their proximity to someone who has tested COVID-19 positive or high risk patients. It also gives information on how many people may have tested positive in a 500-metre or one kilometre radius. However, details of the patients are not made public.
Similarly, in the Chennai Corporation’s ‘Corona Monitoring’ app, the street in which a patient tests positive is visible along with other containment zones.
“We don’t give out patient-related information due to privacy issues. Only the street name is shown,” said MP Azhagu Pandia Raja who created the app for the city corporation.
Chengalpattu district collector John Louis said that according to protocol, only the name has to be withheld.
“This is being done at the state level and we have given out such details to ensure that people know if their neighbours or someone they know have been affected. The source of infection is also supposed to be mentioned as per protocol,” he said.
“People need not worry (that their personal details are out). They should understand that this is not something to be stigmatised. People are being treated and are recovering quickly,” he added.
The issue has also been brought to the notice of Health Secretary Beela Rajesh.