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.

Innovation Summary

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(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.

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Year: 2020
Level of government: National/Federal government

Status:

  • Evaluation - understanding whether the innovative initiative has delivered what was needed

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