China Focus: Bluetooth contributes to accurate COVID-19 control
(Photo by GREG BAKER / AFP)

Bluetooth is not a cutting-edge technology, but it can play a big role in COVID-19 prevention and control.

A Chinese institute has developed a Bluetooth tracking system to accurately check and position the close contacts of COVID-19 infected persons inside buildings.

Current epidemic control measures are mainly helped by big data which can monitor whether people have been to high-risk areas while hardly recognizing close contacts.

The system, Blue Bubble, developed by the Beijing Academy of Artificial Intelligence (BAAI), runs when Bluetooth is switched on as well as the network of Bluetooth receivers installed inside a building. It can quickly record people's movements inside the buildings with an accuracy of two meters and check whether they have had close contact with an infected person.

The movements of Bluetooth devices such as smartphones and wristbands which were used by both virus-infected persons and close contacts inside the buildings can be recorded by the system, and close contacts would be screened.

The system will contribute to the accurate isolation of virus-related groups of people in the buildings, rather than bringing inconvenience to those without close contact with infected people.

To protect personal privacy, the Bluetooth data of the system is collected in users' personal devices or the data storage facilities of buildings, rather than the internet data center.

The system only records a series of random data codes from the Bluetooth devices, and not all of the data is allowed to be taken out of the buildings and uploaded onto the internet.

The buildings' property management and security departments are required to keep the data safe and prevent malicious access.

The system cannot deduce the users' identity, said Huang Tiejun, director of the BAAI. If there were no people infected by the virus, it would not be known whom the series of random data code belonged to.

"The collected data is required to be deleted after 14 days," said Huang.

But if any person were confirmed to be infected, the disease control department of the buildings would be able to find out the Bluetooth device which was represented by the random but unique sequence. The users who downloaded the Blue Bubble app can check whether they had met with the person inside the building. "But they will not know the specific identity of the infected person," said Huang.

Authorized organizations such as disease control centers are the only ones allowed to match the personal Bluetooth devices with the real identities of the infected people in order to timely carry out prevention measures.

The system has been put into pilot application in Beijing since April and technically ready for the wide use of crowd gathering scenarios including exhibition, performance and shopping malls, according to the BAAI.

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