Development and Use of a COVID-19 Epidemiological Investigation System
In order to respond to the surge in unprecedented pandemic of COVID-19, Korean government swiftly developed the Epidemiological Investigation System based on Smart City Data Hub technology. It is designed to help officials quickly trace transmission routes and places through real-time data analysis such as mobile information. This system reduced the time for investigation from 24 hours to less than 10 minutes, enabling the containment of the pandemic in early stage and effective quarantine.
(Background) COVID-19, which broke out in January 2020 in South Korea, caused a mass transmission in Daegu and North Gyeongsang Province and prompted the government to declare an emergency and ask for a coordinated response across government agencies to contain spread.
(Purpose) After realizing the need for an epidemiological investigation during MERS outbreak in 2015, the Korean government formulated the relevant law, which allows the use of personal information in the event of national crisis for an epidemiological investigation. In order to counter the rapid transmission of COVID-19, the government shifted away from investigations by manual tracking and interviews for the benefit of a more swift analysis to the epidemiological investigation based upon the data collection, processing and analysis features of the Smart City Data Hub Platform being developed under the national R&D program. Seven government agencies and 34 corporations have participated in the process of system development, which has been officially launched in only one month after trial operation.
(Key Features of System) The system allows officials to track the movements of confirmed patients and at-risk zones, thereby realizing enhancements in three areas.
1. The incorporation of AI technologies has reduced the time to analyze the travel details of people with COVID-19 from 24 hours to less than ten minutes.
2. Personal information, which was previously managed manually, has been put into a secure database to ensure strict access privilege management and prevent misuse and abuse.
3. The communication among 28 relevant government organizations and manual work-dominated investigations has become digitized, leading to a reduced workload and more efficient information sharing.
(Planning and Implementation) The entire process of planning, implementation, verification, and evaluation was complemented in a short span of only one month. Enhancement has been made on an ongoing basis since the application of the system in the field for actual epidemiological investigation. The development process involved seven government agencies and 34 corporations from the private sector, which collectively formed a collaboration group, and the progress was reported to the public through the media to ensure transparency.
1. (Ideation) Since the declaration of COVID-19 emergency, researchers working on the national Smart City program brainstormed an idea to digitize an epidemiological investigation process.
2. (Consultation with KCDC) System development was commenced upon the consultation with KCDC, the central authority over epidemiological investigation. On behalf of KCDC, which was preoccupied with the fight against COVID-19, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport, responsible for the Smart City Program, led the entire system development process with the approval of the Central Epidemic Control Countermeasure Headquarters, which itself supervises the quarantine process in its entirety.
3. (Development of a Prototype) An urban data analysis system was recently developed under the national Smart City R&D program and was found to be feasible for an epidemiological investigation system.
4. (Trial Operation) The system was operated on a pilot basis by information providers and KCDC, which would use the system for the purpose of system enhancement.
5. (Official Launch) The system was handed off to KCDC to be applied to epidemiological investigation across the board.
(Verification and Evaluation) Verification and evaluation were carried out repeatedly on ① system performance and ② privacy protection.
6. (System Performance) Twenty-eight organizations, including users such as KCDC and information providers such as telecommunications companies and credit card issuers, joined trial operations to identify problems.
7. (Privacy Protection) A significant amount of time was devoted to privacy protection and prevention of misuse and abuse of personal information. The number of users with access to personal information was kept to a minimum, and the access history of any information was protected against deletion to assure responsible use of information. Up-to-date anti-hacking technologies were adopted to minimize the risk of information leakage. The Board of Audit and Inspection (BAI) and the National Intelligence Service (NIS) performed a cross-examination in accordance with the relevant law. NIS contributed to the System's reliability and data leakage prevention by conducting a mock hacking, and BAI keeps monitoring the fair use of personal information.
(Expansion and Roll-out) The Korean government plans to share and export its experience and technologies to other countries and international organizations, which need an epidemiological investigation system. Accordingly, it is developing a system that will be applicable to other countries. Once development is completed, technologies will be customized and exported to each country.
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
Epidemiological investigation is essential to containing infectious diseases in an urban area and has long been handled manually by professionals. However, the advances in information and communications technology have enabled the work to go digital so that the investigation can be done with greater accuracy and speed, rather than considerable manual work. In particular, the Data Hub platform, one of the most representative Smart City technologies, was incorporated for the collection, processing, analysis, and use of massive urban datasets to make epidemiological investigation more swift, precise, and reliable.
What is the current status of your innovation?
The KCDC has been using the COVID-19 Epidemiological Investigation System since March 2020, and it is currently in use in 17 cities and provinces and at 254 local community health centers. The COVID-19 Epidemiological Investigation System allows the collection, processing, and analysis of the primary data so that epidemiologists can quickly and accurately determine the location, movement paths, and transmission network of confirmed cases and manage epidemiological investigation processes more effectively. The System now covers over 90% of the investigation process in regards to confirmed cases. In response to great interest expressed by countries and international organizations around the globe in the System, development of another version of the COVID-19 Epidemiological Investigation System is underway for overseas markets, and this version will be easily configurable to their infrastructure.
Collaborations & Partnerships
- Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport(MoLIT) in charge of overall management of the System development
- Korea Centers for Disease Control & Prevention(KCDC) operating the System
- Korea Agency for Infrastructure Technology Advancement(KAIA) initially proposed the System development
- System Developers(KETI, Dtonic, PineC&I, N2M) and Partners(Telecom company(SKT, KT, LGU+), 22 credit card issuers, National Police Agency
- Citizenry who consented to the use of personal information
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
The system has minimized COVID-19 infection risks and secured public safety. The main goal of K-quarantine is to contain the spread of virus and maintain daily living through transparent information sharing.
1. Securing the autonomy of society without a lockdown
2. Swift and transparent sharing of COVID information
3. Policy implementation based on participation of citizenry
The excellence of digital technologies in response to the pandemic has been proven, generating business opportunities.
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
The COVID-19 Epidemiological Investigation System collects, processes, and analyzes the primary data to spot the location and
movements as well as the transmission network of confirmed cases in a swift and accurate manner and extends the functionality of managing an epidemiological investigation. As of now, the System covers 90% of the investigation as to confirmed cases. This is a major factor in South Korea’s effective quarantine against COVID-19, as manifested by the cumulative number of confirmed
cases totaling only 2,224 or 110th in ranking out of 157 countries with populations of one million or more as of April 18, 2021,
according to Worldometer, a real-time world statistics website.
Challenges and Failures
The development process involved the critical task of building data management and analysis functionalities to standardize
datasets from various information providers, including telecommunications companies and credit card issuers, in order to process them in a batch. While the System was in development, extensive discussion went on to promote mutual understanding and seek administrative cooperation through consultations among stakeholders. Through such process, robust measures to share and utilize data from the public and the private sectors were devised and recognized as an exemplary administrative case. However, in a case where a confirmed case didn’t use a credit card, an epidemiologist needs to go through the hassle of checking CCTV records, consuming a significant amount of time and, as a result, complicating the effort to obtain the required information in a timely manner.
Conditions for Success
Responsible staff at MoLIT, the KCDC, and other government agencies actively brought their efforts together to overcome the
health crisis, and ministers and leaders of the relevant agencies demonstrated strong leadership. Telecommunications companies and software developers volunteered to take part in the development and application of the Smart City Data Hub, creating synergy effects. Furthermore, data analysts and IT specialists verified the System in a readily applicable state through a wide array of simulations to complete the development in a matter of three weeks. In the meantime, the National Police Agency and the KCDC made sure of the confidentiality of personal information as such information is used to make the movements of confirmed cases public. These were all important factors in the successful development and operation of the COVID-19 Epidemiological Investigation System.
The Korean government plans to share and export its experience and technologies to other countries and international organizations, which need an epidemiological investigation system. To that end, it is developing a system that will be applicable to countries overseas. Once development in completed, technologies will be customized and exported to each country. Countries that would like to cooperate with South Korea will have unlimited access to verified solutions of Korea, including the COVID-19 Epidemiological Investigation System, digital log, and the Self-Quarantine Safety Protection App, and reconfigure and implement them as needed for their quarantine systems. These solutions can be utilized to address a new infectious disease that might come in the future.
COVID-19 has created by far the greatest crisis for humanity in the 21st century, and this calls for global coordination to keep
humanity safe. When the pandemic broke out in Korea, the government considered the option of a lockdown but decided to
encourage them to continue to wear face masks and go about their daily lives to guarantee their civil liberties and safeguard
economic activities. To have a more reliable system in place, active cooperation of relevant government agencies was in need. Also, the Data Hub, a deliverable from the National Smart City R&D Program, played a pivotal role in the System development.
It is critical to ensure cooperation among stakeholders from a wide range of fields during a nationwide disaster like COVID-19,
where various factors work simultaneously. Swiftly building and operating a system that obtains accurate and real-time data on
infections and transmissions is the surest way to mitigate risks, as demonstrated by the System development this time.