Misuse Of MySejahtera Hotspot Tracker Stigmatises Penang Hawkers

An MOH officer says MySejahtera’s hotspot tracker is meant to empower the community, not for people to stigmatise others.

KUALA LUMPUR, August 21 — MySejahtera informs users if there are Covid-19 cases in their vicinity, but the mobile app’s hotspot tracker has led to rumours hurting small businesses in Penang amid outbreaks.

Penang resident Boo Soon Yew said Penangites initially started a rumour on social media about a nasi lemak seller that had apparently contracted coronavirus, claiming that she was a patient at Penang’s Adventist Hospital that had admitted a patient who only tested positive on August 13 for Covid-19, upon contact tracing from the index case of the Tawar cluster.

Batu Lanchang assemblyman Ong Ah Teong has debunked the rumour about the nasi lemak seller and said the gossip has badly affected the person’s business.

This was followed by another rumour warning Penangites to stay away from Island Glades in northeast Penang, as the nasi lemak seller’s brother works at Genting Cafe, whereas his brother-in-law sells economy rice at Mandarin Cafe, both located in Island Glades.

The rumour became viral when Penang residents used the MySejahtera hotspot tracker that revealed the presence of Covid-19 case(s) in the surrounding area of Genting Cafe and Mandarin Cafe.

“When I searched Genting Cafe and Mandarin Cafe on my MySejahtera hotspot tracker, it shows that there are positive case(s) within the 1km radius of that location,” Boo told CodeBlue yesterday.

Genting Cafe in northeast Penang Island. Picture taken by Boo Soon Yew on August 20, 2020.

Chew Tuk Ming — a 45-year-old hawker stall owner from Genting Cafe, who sells chee cheong fun — said his business has dropped by half at least because of the rumour.

“As for my business, yes it has been badly affected, by at least 50 per cent, considering this is a public holiday when the lunch crowd peaks,” Chew told Boo yesterday, referring to the Awal Muharram celebration.

The hawker stall owner dismissed the rumours that linked him to alleged positive Covid-19 cases in the vicinity.

“It is false, all false! I have no siblings in Penang. My family in Penang is very small, just my mum and my daughters. All other siblings are outstation, not in Penang.”

Boo questioned why the Ministry of Health’s (MOH) MySejahtera contact tracing app highlights reports of Covid-19 case(s) within the past 14 days in a 1km radius of “Island Glades” in its hotspot tracker as of August 19, but shows no reported case for the vicinity of “Adventist Hospital” in the last 28 days.

The tuition teacher said that perhaps the MySejahtera application does not show any positive cases near the private hospital as it blocks cases by their home address.

“Somebody has to answer these issues. I do not have the answers, but I am making an observation. It is not so good in Penang with all these things happening, it causes a lot of rumours,” Boo told CodeBlue.

MySejahtera app’s hotspot tracker shows Covid-19 case(s) reported in the last 14 days in a 1km-radius of Island Glades, northeast Penang, but no Covid-19 cases in the last 28 days in the vicinity of Penang Adventist Hospital, as of August 19, 2020. Picture from Twitter @BooSoonYew67.

An anonymous MOH source told CodeBlue that MySejahtera’s hotspot tracker does not show the number of coronavirus cases in a particular area or the exact location. It only shows that there are cases within a 1km radius of the searched area.

“It could have just been a coincidence,” the anonymous source said, when asked if the actual cases recorded by MOH were from Genting Cafe and Mandarin Cafe.

The MOH officer, who declined to be named as civil servants are not permitted to speak to the media without prior approval from their higher-ups, explained that the actual Covid-19 cases and the rumoured cases could be coincidentally from the same area.

Boo highlighted that the infographics released by MOH on the location of Covid-19 positive patients may be too huge, inviting people to start rumours especially with the hotspot tracker on the MySejahtera application.

MOH reported that Patients 9,173 and 9,174 from the Tawar cluster are from the northeast region of Penang that includes the centre of Georgetown and Island Glades, a Penang Island district spanning 122.79 km2. Penang has recorded 13 new locally transmitted Covid-19 cases within the past 14 days as of today, including six in the northeast district.

“A huge area becomes something that is so ideal for people who want to start rumours.”

The anonymous MOH source also told CodeBlue that the positive Covid-19 case from Adventist Hospital had a history of admission in the hospital for another condition.

“It is not the source of infection. If this is the analogy, then most hospitals will be red. On the contrary, we have had hospitals which were red before because those hospitals were once a source of infection,” the anonymous source said.

When asked how the MySejahtera hotspot tracker function designates an area as a hotspot, the MOH officer said that the tracker works based on in-depth integration with the Crisis Preparedness and Response Centre’s (CPRC) investigation on a daily basis.

“What you see on MySejahtera hotspot tracker comes directly from CPRC, so it is based on investigations and massive collaboration with manual data. Don’t dispute — there is no need for the public to dispute because this is done by CPRC, by epidemiologists, it is not that we simply want to mark that area red.

“We want to empower our community for them to be more vigilant to know this area is red, so I don’t want to go to this area, or I must be at home, or take the necessary preventive measures, not be rumour-mongers and start stigmatising people.”

Update at 6.30pm: The headline was amended to represent the article more accurately.

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